The Baltimore Ravens are so deep at several positions on both sides of the ball that they don’t necessarily need many of their rookies to emerge as starters in 2021. Nevertheless, they are still expecting most of them to contribute regularly, at least in rotational roles at their respective positions.
Hitting the ground running as a rookie can be a daunting expectation for a first-year player no matter what situation they’re in. However, there are occasionally exceptions to rule who pop year one. With that in mind, here is the first in a seven-part series breaking down bold predictions for each member of the Ravens’ 2021 rookie class that made the final 53-man roster.
WR Rashod Bateman
Bold prediction: Goes on a Justin Jefferson-esque tear during the second half of the season
The Ravens drafted the former Minnesota Golden Gopher with the first of their two first-round picks in this year’s draft. Selected at No. 27 overall, the expectation was that he’d be an immediate contributor and a reliable weapon for Lamar Jackson in the passing game.
After undergoing groin surgery early in training camp, his NFL debut will be delayed by at least the first three weeks of the season since he was placed on short-term injured reserve. However, once he recovers, Bateman could provide a spark and be an ‘X’ factor for the Ravens offense’s during the second half of the season
Many believe the Ravens will struggle offensively to start the season. It may take time for Jackson to establish chemistry with his targets, not named Mark Andrews, who were banged up for most of training camp. The starting offensive line also played just 10 total snaps together during the preseason.
Bateman’s return could coincide with the hitting of stride, beginning an upward trajectory for Baltimore’s passing game. The team’s top pick was the only member of the rookie class that did not participate in any exhibition action or even a joint practice, since he suffered his injury a week before the preseason kicked off.
Prior to injuring his groin, Bateman was making quite the impression on his teammates and coaches with his play in practice. He was regularly competing and making plays against the first-team defense in 7-on-7 as well as 11-on-11 drills in both padded and unpadded practices, dating back to mini-camp and OTAs.
Even though there isn’t any preseason evidence to show what he can do at the professional level against starting-caliber cornerbacks, he did manage to make a highlight play during the team’s open stadium practice.
Rashod Bateman beat Marlon Humphrey 1-on-1 yesterday for 6️⃣— PFF (@PFF) August 1, 2021
Star in the making ⭐️pic.twitter.com/LobafAxa7x
In the play above, Bateman was going up against All-Pro corner Marlon Humphrey and managed to not only gain separation with his release off the line of scrimmage but also get behind him for a touchdown. Humphrey was one of many Ravens that were impressed with the veteran savvy that the rookie receiver displayed.
“After guarding him throughout OTAs and minicamp the other day, I’ve seen some serious flashes,” Humphrey said during mandatory minicamp in June. “I told DeCosta, I was like, ‘Hey, man. I think we got a pretty good one in Bateman.’ So, he’s shown some really good things to me. I can’t wait to get some more battles with him in training camp and take it into the season.”
During the pre-draft process, Bateman was touted by some pundits as the most pro-ready receiver among his entire class, even more polished than the four prospects at his position that went before him—Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith, and Kadarius Toney. Many analysts believe that he had the highest floor of the bunch because he was already a route running coming out of college.
To expect Bateman to excel in Week 4 against the Broncos, the earliest he’d be eligible to return, is a bit of a stretch at the moment. I believe that he could go on a similar tear in the second half of the season, and especially down the stretch, as Justin Jefferson went on for the Minnesota Vikings as a rookie last year after a relatively quiet first two games of the season.
While I’m not predicting that he will break the rookie receiving record or earn a Pro Bowl bid like Jefferson did in his first season, I believe that Bateman could have a similar galvanizing effect on the Ravens’ offense. Even if he doesn’t average 100 yards per game once he becomes acclimated, I predict he will still have a productive finish to his rookie season. I also believe that he will be in peak form by the time the playoffs roll around, and that he will come up with several clutch conversions on the Ravens’ run to a title.
Final stat prediction: 52 catches for 624 yards and 6 touchdowns in 12 games.