2021 NFL draft: Minnesota's Rashod Bateman has talent to crash Round 1 WR party

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Eric Edholm
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Leading up to the 2021 NFL draft, which starts April 29, Yahoo Sports will count down our top 100 overall prospects. We’ll count them down in groups of five for Nos. 100-51, followed by more in-depth reports on our top 50 players, with help from our scouting assistant, Liam Blutman. We reserve the right to make changes to players’ grades and evaluations based on injury updates, pro-day workouts or late-arriving information from NFL teams.

Other prospect rankings: Nos. 100-96 | 95-91 | 90-86 | 85-81 | 80-76 | 75-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. OT Liam Eichenberg | 49. WR Terrace Marshall Jr. | 48. LB Chazz Surratt | 47. EDGE Joe Tryon | 46. OT-OG Alex Leatherwood | 45. CB Asante Samuel Jr. | 44. DL Levi Onwuzurike | 43. LB Jabril Cox | 42. DT Daviyon Nixon | 41. EDGE Ronnie Perkins | 40. LB Nick Bolton | 39. CB Ifeatu Melifonwu | 38. WR Elijah Moore | 37. OT Jalen Mayfield | 36. EDGE Carlos Basham Jr. | 35. CB Elijah Molden | 34. RB Travis Etienne | 33. WR Kadarius Toney | 32. EDGE Jayson Oweh | 31. LB Zaven Collins | 30. DT Christian Barmore | 29. QB Mac Jones | 28. CB Caleb Farley | 27. RB Javonte Williams | 26. C-OG Landon Dickerson | 25. S Trevon Moehrig | 24. CB Greg Newsome II | 23. WR Rashod Bateman | 22. EDGE Greg Rousseau | 21. OT Christian Darrisaw | 20. RB Najee Harris | 19. LB-S Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah | 18. EDGE Jaelan Phillips | 17. OT Teven Jenkins | 16. EDGE Kwity Paye | 15. CB Jaycee Horn | 14. OT-OG Rashawn Slater | 13. OG-OT Alijah Vera-Tucker | 12. WR DeVonta Smith | 11. EDGE Azeez Ojulari | 10. CB Patrick Surtain II | 9. OT Penei Sewell | 8. QB Zach Wilson | 7. LB Micah Parsons | 6. QB Trey Lance | 5. WR Jaylen Waddle | 4. QB Justin Fields | 3. WR Ja'Marr Chase | 2. TE Kyle Pitts | 1. QB Trevor Lawrence

Here's how we use our prospect grades for the 2021 NFL draft. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Here's how we use our prospect grades for the 2021 NFL draft. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

23. Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman

6-foot, 195 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 6.04 — possible immediate starter

TL;DR scouting report: Competitive playmaker with refined route running, although his limitations might not make him a WR1

Games watched: Wisconsin (2019), Auburn (2019), Michigan (2020), Iowa (2020)

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit, Bateman started immediately (all 13 games) as a true freshman and set program freshman records for receptions (51), receiving yards (704) and scoring six TDs in 2018. The next season he caught 60 passes for 1,219 yards and 11 TDs in 13 games, earning third-team AP All-America, Big Ten Receiver of the Year, first-team all-conference and team MVP honors. Bateman initially opted out of the 2020 season when the Big Ten suspended play but was reinstated when football resumed. He switched uniforms from No. 13 to No. 0 in 2020 and started the first five games, catching 36 passes for 472 yards and two scores and earning third-team All-Big Ten mention before opting out for the remainder of the season. Bateman then declared early for the 2021 NFL draft.

Upside: Outstanding route runner who operates with precision and poise — very few false steps. Can slam on the brakes and open up late. Deftly changes up his route tempo and has a wicked hesitation move to throw corners off his scent. Makes quick transitions in his breaks and can separate at the top.

Crafty and creative — uses all his tools to uncover. Unafraid to get physical in his routes — uses leverage as well as almost any receiver in this class. Works well in scramble mode, too, such as this clutch catch in traffic vs. Wisconsin in 2019:

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Consistently productive. Caught at least one pass in all 31 college games and had five or more in 16 of them. Scored 19 career TDs, including 11 as a sophomore when he dominated the Big Ten as a 20-year old. Played every WR spot on both sides of the field — we saw him more in the slot this past season. Fluid in an RPO-heavy offense and ran a robust route tree.

Not huge but plays big — routinely makes catches outside his frame. Great arm length (33 inches) that he weaponizes well. Size and enough strength to win battles on the outside. Beats press with combination of foot quickness and strength. Great tackle breaker who almost converts into a running back after the catch — ankle-tackle attempts won’t cut it. Enough shiftiness to make the first man miss, too.

Hands catcher — doesn’t try to body balls. Keeps his momentum through the catch — doesn’t gear down or lose acceleration. Has made some highlight-reel pulls. Navigates the sideline well and already is well-versed in getting two feet inbounds.

Springy, basketball athleticism to make plays in the air. Surprised scouts with a better-than-expected 40 time (4.41 seconds), along with above-average results in the broad jump (123 inches), vertical jump (36 inches) and 3-cone drill (6.95 seconds).

Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman can do damage after the catch. (Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman can do damage after the catch. (Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Downside: Good but hardly elite athlete overall. Doesn’t always play like a receiver with a 4.4 40 time. Runs with build-up speed. Also seems to lack that extra pull-away gear downfield. Lacks elite burst off the line and suddenness.

Looked to be playing about 10 pounds overweight last season. Slimmed down for pro day but could add more muscle and body armor on his frame.

Suffered a four-drop game vs. Iowa in 2020 — hands and concentration will let him down at times. (And drops were a consistent issue in all three of his seasons.) Seemed to lose focus and drive a bit in 2020. Opted out midseason.

Not as physical as you’d hope at the catch point. Can struggle against bigger, more physical receivers and not win box-out battles for the ball. Will let corners gain position and cut off his catch window. Can be a better finisher.

Wasn’t used ever as a runner or returner. Blocking skills appeared inconsistent and sub-par overall. Didn’t always fare as well vs. the best corners he faced.

Best-suited destination: Bateman has a higher ceiling than his 2019 teammate, Tyler Johnson, who was a fifth-round pick of the Buccaneers last spring. Although his 2020 season didn’t always feature Bateman’s best traits extensively, there were conditions — a poor passing game — that absolutely held him back.

We believe Bateman’s crafty route running and high-effort style could give him a shot to compete for a starting job and elevate to being an idea WR2 in time. Perhaps he’ll never be a team’s clear-cut WR1, but his competitiveness and football maturity for a young player should get him on the field quickly.

Did you know: Bateman started for three years in basketball in high school, leading Tift County (Ga.) High to a state title his junior season. He even received basketball scholarship offers from some Division-I programs, including Virginia Tech and Penn State.

Player comp: Nelson Agholor

Expected draft range: Late first- or early second-round pick.

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