Prospect Profile – Rashod Bateman
Rashod Bateman is one of the best wide receivers in the 2021 draft from an analytics perspective. After a year one breakout, Bateman was immediately productive when he stepped onto Minnesota’s campus. Competing with Tyler Johnson, Bateman managed to post a 26.7% weighted dominator and 2.03 Receiving Yards Per Team Pass Attempt (YPTPA) in his true freshman season. Bateman is the only wide receiver among first-round wide receivers to be a consistent producer his first three seasons. When evaluated on the top-24 regression line for weighted dominator, he is the only one to cross it over his first three seasons.
From an analytics perspective, Bateman is a superstar. His age-adjusted production is unquestioned and among some of the best wide receivers in recent memory. Although these numbers help contextualize his early career production, it can’t be the only way to evaluate prospects. For example, Ja’Marr Chase was competing with Justin Jefferson and sat out his final season. His second season was one of the most dominant in recent memory, given the offensive context.
In today’s NFL, teams value separation and the ability for wide receivers to get open at different depths and against different coverages. According to Matt Harmon, Reception Perception founder, Bateman had a 73.9% success rate against man coverage and a 73.3% success rate against press coverage. An excellent analytics profile, combined with on-field separation, puts Bateman among elite company. The first-round draft capital reflects as much.
Based on his Reception Perception chart above, Bateman has the acumen to succeed as a true X-receiver. With an above-average success rate on corner, out, dig, nine, and curl routes, Bateman not only has the tools to succeed outside, but it aligns with Lamar Jackson’s strengths.
Lamar Jackson – Better than You Think
Lamar Jackson’s passing has been criticized going back to his draft year when Bill Polian notoriously said he should switch to wide receiver. After a recent MVP season and two straight playoff appearances, Jackson has proved the critics wrong. Jackson’s accuracy is much better than advertised, and he’s especially accurate where Bateman operates.
Jackson’s rushing is second to none. He can run for first downs, and defenses have to account for his ability to throw on the run. He is also able to provide plus accuracy, extending drives with his passing. In 2020, Jackson ranked second on throws at (or past) the first down line last season at 67.2% accuracy percentage. Bateman, a player who can play both inside and outside can thrive as a reliable chain-mover in Baltimore.
While moving the chains is important, so is throwing deep. According to QB Data Mine, in 2020, Jackson ranked seventh in depth-adjusted accuracy percentage at 63.9%. Looking at passes beyond five yards, Jackson posted the second-best percentage (69.8%) – the only player more accurate was Aaron Rodgers (70.9%).
Taking all that into account gives us context as to what Baltimore may look to do moving forward. The dynamism in the run game isn’t going away any time soon. The opportunity to expand passing opportunities could increase if Baltimore recognizes that Jackson’s accuracy could bring value. Based on the heat map of Jackson’s passing above, Bateman could be the perfect fit.
Jackson, among the best quarterbacks in depth-adjusted completion percentage, excels in certain areas. Specifically, according to the Deep Ball Passing Project, between 21-25 yards. Jackson was the eighth-most accurate quarterback and between 26-30 yards, he was the most accurate. While these are deeper passes, they’re also more indicative of the area of the field where Bateman operates downfield.
Baltimore’s Passing Rate and Can It Change?
Baltimore is not a prolific passing offense. Ranked dead last by a substantial margin, the Ravens averaged 25.9 passing attempts per game. A successful rushing team, Harbaugh noted, “We throw it less than most teams do because we run so well”. The rushing success in Baltimore is unparalleled in the modern NFL. Without the incentive to change the working formula, Baltimore should again be a run-heavy offense in 2021.
Things don’t have to change – at least not drastically. Baltimore’s pass attempts per game in 2020 were the lowest in the NFL since 2013, and the third-lowest in the last 15 years. It was truly an outlier year. In 2019, during Jackson’s MVP season, the team averaged 29.4 pass attempts per game. That was good for 29th in the league but still 3.5 more per game than the 2020 season. While Jackson’s otherworldly touchdown rate parlayed itself into an MVP season, the passing attempts were up despite a 14-2 record.
2020 was weird. Baltimore’s season stands as an outlier in the modern version of the sport. It’s important to acknowledge how much of an outlier it was and how it is to repeat itself. The Ravens still have a good defense, among the best in the league. However, variance is real. It will be difficult to stop offenses with the loss of Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue. A downtick in defensive efficiency could lead to an uptick in offensive plays.
Another important note is that the team did draft a wide receiver in the first round in 2019. When the Ravens drafted Marquise Brown, it was in a field stretcher role. Bateman is a potential X-wide receiver player who should command volume. If anything, this might give us some insight into Baltimore’s possible upcoming shift in play calling.
Baltimore will never lead the league in passing; in fact, they likely will never be top half. In 2021, it just needs to tick upwards. Even in the 14-2 season, Baltimore was close to 30 pass attempts per game. Variance, a slightly worse defense, and the addition of passing weapons could change that moving forward.
NFL Trends – Can Low Volume Support High-End Wide Receiver Production?
While the notion that variance could lead to an uptick in passing attempts, it needs to be proven that low pass-attempt teams can support high-end wide receivers. In 2020, the bottom ten passing teams supported four top-12 wide receivers, and one team supported two (Minnesota). Looking at the list, it’s easy to see the path forward for Rashod Bateman.
Most are alpha wide receivers (Davante Adams and AJ Brown) or in a condensed target share (Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen). The other teams in the bottom ten include New England, both New York franchises, Cleveland, New Orleans, and Houston. Houston managed to support Will Fuller as a fantasy WR1 until his suspension and Brandin Cooks finished as WR16 on the season. The other franchises (outside of New Orleans who had Michael Thomas miss most of the year) boast some of the worst groups of wide receivers in the league. Other bottom-half passing offenses like Seattle and Carolina supported multiple top-12 (Seattle) and top-24 (Carolina) wide receivers among them.
One important factor is that most of the wide receivers finishing in the top-12 play with good quarterbacks. Sam Darnold and Cam Newton aren’t likely to support high-end finishers on low volume. Quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers can. Based on the data above, Lamar Jackson fits into this passing tier. With the second-best depth-adjusted accuracy percentage in 2020, Jackson can not only thrive from an accuracy perspective but can also leverage his cannon of an arm.
What Will it Take for Rashod Bateman to Succeed?
Based on the data above, we can craft a path for Bateman’s long-term success. He can be a viable fantasy starter and a player who can finish at the high-end of his position yearly.
First, Bateman must be a good NFL player. Can he assume the role of a prototypical X or even a possession wide receiver like Keenan Allen at the next level? His analytics, film, and draft capital all suggest that it’s a possibility. An early breakout, Bateman profiles as that focal point of an offense at the next level. Given his first-round draft capital, Baltimore could see the same. The above portion of the article is written as though Bateman is locked in to succeed, and while his profile resembles a likely hit, it is still far from guaranteed. At the end of the day, it’s important to remember we’re still playing the odds.
Second, variance has to exist. As the least aggressive passing team since 2013, Baltimore should see a regression to the mean – or at least their mean. It’s foolhardy to assume that they can get to league average in pass attempts per game. As shown above, that doesn’t need to happen – it just needs to normalize some. Their 2019 average of 29.4 per game was accomplished during a dominant season where logically, they would have to throw even less than they did in 2020. Sometimes variance leads to situations like this where the team was worse, but they needed to throw even less.
Third, Baltimore needs to use him as their primary receiving option, or it needs to be a condensed target share. Both scenarios are a possibility. Drafting a wide receiver like Bateman in the first could signal Baltimore plans to deploy him as a focal point of their offense. His drafting is categorically different than Brown, an undersized speedster. It’s an important role for the Ravens but not a role that should command a large target share. With over 100 targets last season, the Ravens attempted to use him in a variety of ways. However, his inefficiency (70th in yards per target and 81st in true catch percentage), despite a 25.8% target share, was likely one of the factors leading to the pick of a potential X-wide receiver.
If Baltimore doesn’t feature him, the other path to relevancy is the narrowed target share. Similar to how the Vikings and Seahawks operated in 2020, both used two primary pass-catchers while leaving mostly scraps for the others. If these were to play out for Baltimore, the likely scenario includes Bateman as the alpha, Mark Andrews as the second leading target, and Marquise Brown as the deep threat. Lamar Jackson’s historical reluctance to target running backs means a condensed target share of three at the top is a possibility.
Throughout this article, I’ve laid out the case for Rashod Bateman and what his path to high-end fantasy success looks like. To make this conclusion actionable, it’s important to speak to how he should be treated in rookie drafts. Given his prospect profile, Bateman was a tier two wide receiver for most analysts with alpha traits and target hog upside. Nothing about his profile has changed, but the landing spot in Baltimore has cast doubt. Although a few days removed from the NFL draft, Bateman is being moved down ranks due to the landing spot and, based on the case above, unfairly so. Wherever Bateman was ranked pre-draft is where he should remain. Repeating the mistake of AJ Brown is avoidable.