The New England Patriots’ wide receiver situation could best be described as catastrophic. Their best player at the position, Julian Edelman, is about to be 35, coming off of two knee procedures in 2020, and is no sure thing to be back with the team. Their most productive player, Jakobi Meyers, is a former undrafted free agent with more career touchdown passes than touchdown receptions. Former first-round pick N’Keal Harry might be most accurately described as inconsistent. Add in a mix of futures signings and aging veterans and you’ve got yourself a sorry-looking receiver room.
So, with all of that said, it should be easy to see that the Patriots will be expending major resources at the position this offseason.
New England could (and probably should) explore free agency as the team is projected to have more than $60 million to spend. High-end receivers like Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, and Will Fuller V may be too rich for the Patriots’ blood, but the second tier is nothing to scoff at. Players like Curtis Samuel, Corey Davis, and Marvin Jones are all serious options for New England.
Even with those potential moves, and the long history of getting it wrong at the wideout position, the best way for the Patriots to improve their receiving corps in 2021 is to draft one.
And this prospect may fall right into their lap.
#Patriots Draft Target Thread: WR #0 Rashod Bateman (Minnesota) 6’2” 210lbs.— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) March 5, 2021
• Fluid route runner with versatility to play multiple spots.
• Reliable hands catcher who isn’t afraid to work the middle of the field.
• Tough as nails. pic.twitter.com/MASS9eoA2Y
Name: Rashod Bateman
Position: Wide receiver
School: Minnesota (junior)
Opening day age: 21
2019 stats: 5 games; 36 catches, 472 yards, 2 touchdowns
Size: 6’1”, 210 lbs
Expected round: 1st
Strengths: Fluidity and insane attention to detail make Bateman a top-three route-runner in the 2021 draft. The attention to detail shines in his footwork. He did a lot of work to cut out unnecessary steps and to continue pushing vertically on routes so as not to give away his breaks. Little things that go a long way in transitioning into the highest level of football.
Bateman is super technical, does the little things correctly which goes a long way in the #Patriots system. Here he is recognizing a corner blitz and sitting early, makes for an easy throw for the QB and gives him space to work. Smart players always find a way. pic.twitter.com/PME1PooydW— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) March 5, 2021
It’s hard for your hands to stand out if you’re playing wide receiver nowadays. With guys like Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry catching everything within a mile radius, being solid and just making all of the routine catches doesn’t get you enough attention. Well, I’ll give Bateman the attention he deserves because if the ball touches his hands he’s catching it. Defenses will need to stay in his back pocket if they want to prevent him from putting up 6-8 catches every week.
Though he’s a bigger body guy, Bateman is great at working across the field and through traffic. He won’t get caught up in the trash and has no problem working through defenders.
Extremely tough and strong, Bateman won’t make everyone miss behind the line and take the ball 70 yards for a score, but he will get the ball in his hands and do everything possible to pick up the tough yards.
Not necessarily noted for his YAC ability, Bateman has no problem working amongst the trash. He won’t hesitate to get scrappy and fight for a few extra yards.pic.twitter.com/6NAsOwFSbL— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) March 5, 2021
Smart, technical, reliable and underrated. Those are the buzzwords to describe Bateman.
Weaknesses: The hips are a problem. (No, I’m not talking about the Super Bowl halftime show from a couple years ago.) Bateman has a really hard time keeping momentum in and out of his breaks. Any hard cut is preceded by five yards of slowing himself down and followed by five yards or ramping back up. Without the ability to make quick cuts, Bateman will be relying a ton on technique, which isn’t a great recipe for success against No. 1 corners.
Making people miss isn’t exactly what Bateman does. Now, he is by no means bad after the catch, but his running style limits the amount of ways he can be used in an offense. Without unbelievable size and physicality or great versatility and speed, you’re limiting the spots that you can play. The NFL has shied away from that in recent drafts, especially in the first round.
Admittedly, these are nitpicks. But with a receiver this good, you’re forced to look for weaknesses instead of just finding them.
What would be his role? Bateman would likely occupy the ‘Z’ spot for the Patriots as that would allow the aforementioned Meyers to slide into a more full-time role in the slot, where he played his best in 2020. This also gives Harry another shot at occupying the classic ‘X’ role that he’s struggled to find consistency in. All three would be afforded an opportunity to have a role at a specific spot. Perhaps that’d help the group grow together, and at the very least it’d show some trust in them.
Does he have positional versatility? Conceivably, Bateman can play any receiver spot. His set of skills would actually best be applied in the same way as Meyers. Allowing them to play in multiple spots to maximize their strengths and hide some of those weaknesses.
This is a flashy play but the most impressive thing to me is the willingness to go up and get this ball. Working through three or four defenders, Bateman opens up his body to make the catch. No alligator arms here. pic.twitter.com/H2KTGRybHD— Keagan (@KeaganStiefel) March 5, 2021
Who’s his competition? Both Bateman and Meyers are built from the same mold. Not physically, but in terms of the role that they would play in an NFL offense. Luckily there are two spots available for players cut from that cloth. The two would likely be competing for targets and not playing time, as there is plenty of that up for grabs.
Why the Patriots? The answer to this question has been and will continue to be based around the fact that New England’s wideout room lacks talent. With Edelman’s future up in the air, the current crop of receivers only gets the tag “receiving corps” because they can conceivably run routes and catch footballs, not because they’ve earned a reputation for being solid professional football players.
The argument can be made that there are two solid pro receivers on the current roster. There is no question whether or not a move should be made, it is how many moves and what are the resources that are going to be used?
Why not the Patriots? Any argument against adding good wide receivers to the Patriots’ roster is blasphemous. That being said, the 15th overall pick may be too rich for Bateman as he’s firmly planted himself as a back-half-of-the-first-round-type player. Without completing a trade back and hoping he falls, Bateman to New England feels like a long shot.
Verdict: Here are some words to live by: Never let perceived draft stock stop you from making a move to go get a talented player. Bateman is fully capable of stepping foot in New England and taking over the entire receiving corps. When given that opportunity, you make a move to get him in your building.