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Many people have Ja’Marr Chase, Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle as their top three wideouts from this upcoming NFL draft class. But the more I watch Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman, the more I realize something: He deserves to be in consideration as one of this draft’s top receivers.

Bateman can do just about everything and will have every opportunity to make an immediate impact in fantasy football. While he isn’t getting the same attention as Chase, Smith or Waddle, Bateman could legitimately be the best wideout in this class if things break right for him. He’s that good.

Production

After originally planning on opting out of the 2020 season, Bateman played just five games, resulting in 36 catches for 472 yards and two touchdowns. He then opted out for the remainder of the season but was the complete alpha in this offense to that point, as Minnesota schemed up as many ways as possible to get him the football, as Bateman saw a whopping 30.4% target share. Meanwhile, as a 20-year-old sophomore in 2019, Bateman was very productive, scoring 11 touchdowns and eclipsing 1,200 yards, despite playing alongside former fifth-round pick Tyler Johnson. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Bateman has ideal size for an NFL receiver that will allow him to be used in many different ways.

Strengths

  • Incredible release
  • Can win both outside and inside
  • Fantastic footwork
  • Very solid after the catch

It is a simple concept, really, but the best receivers in the NFL just know how to get open. Period. Bateman does just that, and he does it with an incredible release off the line of scrimmage. He can rock opposing defensive backs to sleep with his footwork and array of hesitation moves, which actually reminds me a lot of (believe it or not) Davante Adams. They are the same size and project as similar athletes, so while I’m not saying Bateman is going to be Adams, his play style does remind me of the All-Pro. He won’t consistently win against press man coverage with physicality like Ja’Marr Chase, but he can freeze corners and still create plenty of separation. And while Bateman played a lot more in the slot (61.2%), that was designed by Minnesota to just get him the ball as much as possible, not because he can’t win on the outside. In 2019, Bateman was top-10 in college football in yards per route run (3.48), per Pro Football Focus, while 662 of his 760 snaps (87%) were from the perimeter. And while his top strength isn’t his presence as a deep ball wideout, Bateman has very good ball-tracking skills, especially on slot fades in the end zone. And in traffic, he isn’t as good as Chase, but his hands are strong enough to make the tough catches for you.

Despite lacking off-the-charts athleticism, Bateman is also very good after the catch. He averaged nearly six yards after the catch per reception last season and uses his stellar footwork to churn out more yards once the ball is in his hands. No, he isn’t Jaylen Waddle, Kadarius Toney or Rondale Moore after the catch. But he’s more than good enough and because he creates so much separation, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to make plays with the ball in his hands. As a player, he reminds me a lot of both Keenan Allen and Allen Robinson. The two Pro Bowl wideouts play in the slot plenty but are more than capable of dominating on the outside, which is the case with Bateman. His measurables are very similar to Allen’s (6-2, 206), while I think his 40-time will hover around the same range as a player like Robinson (4.56).

Weaknesses

  • Lacks top-end speed
  • Occasional drops
  • Sometimes plays too physical

In all honesty, Bateman pretty much does everything well. Now that isn’t to say that he’s a perfect prospect, as he does lack that elite athleticism that other receivers definitely have. But that also doesn’t always automatically translate to success and Bateman simply just knows how to play football. And if Bateman can improve on his short area quickness and burst, he could become unguardable at the NFL level. I’ll also add that Bateman can sometimes play a little too physical, especially down the field, but that is something that isn’t always viewed as a negative and can easily be coached.

Landing spots

Bateman could come off the board anywhere between picks 15 and 30, though I’d gamble he is selected closer to the former range. I truly believe (in my Ron Jaworski voice) that the Washington Football team will either select quarterback Mac Jones or Bateman with the 19th pick, so consider that a very viable landing spot. Washington has their No. 1 in Terry McLaurin, but they still don’t have anyone opposite him to draw coverage away and help open this offense up. Bateman would make a ton of sense there, especially because he can play like a one at times when McLaurin is either hurt or struggling. I could also see him make it to the Jets at 23, who will want to add a receiver, regardless of whether their quarterback is Sam Darnold, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields or someone else in 2021. Of course, both situations would have less than ideal quarterback play, but Bateman would have plenty of opportunity right out of the gate, which is more important for fantasy.