Ravens: Realistic expectations for Rashod Bateman in Year 1

Rashod Bateman, Ravens. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Rashod Bateman, Ravens. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

The Baltimore Ravens have a game plan for 2021, and newly initiated wide receiver Rashod Bateman fits right in the middle of it.

When Baltimore picked Bateman in the first round, they were taking a chance on a promising pass catcher who had arguably the highest floor of any wide receiver in the draft class.

Asking Baltimore if they expect Bateman to make an impact in his rookie year is like asking a cow if it produces milk. Yes, expectations are sky-high for Bateman going into the season, but he’s also just one of many weapons for Lamar Jackson to target this year.

Like fellow rookie Odafe Oweh, Bateman will be asked to step up starting from the very first game. (Given his recent groin injury and impending surgery, though, he’ll likely miss Week 1.)

Unlike Oweh, Bateman will be competing in one of the Ravens’ most talented wide receiver corps to date: the Ravens boast a unit of Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, Devin Duvernay, Tylan Wallace, and several others who have impressed in camp.

Following the Ravens’ early postseason exits in the last two years, they’ve been trying to upgrade what many believe is their one-dimensional run-centric offense. Step one was bringing in big-play receivers like Watkins and Bateman, and step two, naturally, is using them.

But don’t expect Bateman to have triple digit receptions or 1,000+ receiving yards.

Not only will Bateman be competing with Watkins and Brown for pass targets, but those numbers simply aren’t feasible for 2021. This is less a knock on Bateman’s abilities than it is on the Ravens’ team skillset overall.

Lamar Jackson is no Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. The Ravens’ quarterback has made a career out of running the ball, and just because Baltimore added a few shiny passing targets doesn’t mean Jackson is going to start flinging the pigskin left and right.

Rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman will change Ravens’ passing game gradually

Had Bateman landed in pass-happy Green Bay, he might have had a shot at breaking the rookie receiving record. But he’s in Baltimore instead, and he’ll have to adapt to Greg Roman’s low-volume passing offense that’s built around Jackson’s running game.

Last season, the Ravens’ wide receiver corps finished last in receptions and receiving yards at 137 and 1,729, respectively. Part of the reason was lack of quality receivers (sorry, Hollywood), but the other part is that Jackson simply prefers to play with his legs.

Take a look at other Ravens’ receivers’ Year 1 numbers during the Jackson-era: Marquise Brown was targeted 71 times and had 46 receptions for 584 yards. Devin Duvernay was targeted 26 times and had 20 receptions for 201 yards. One of Jackson’s most trusted targets, tight end Mark Andrews, was targeted 50 times and had 34 receptions for 552 yards.

Granted, none of those players possess Bateman’s talent. Still, the fact that no rookie receiver since 2018 had over 50 targets or reached anything close to 1,000 receiving yards is very telling.

Bateman proved he could catch and run at Minnesota, when he hauled in over 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns. Plugged into this Ravens team, however, we’d expect his first year to be a little better than Brown’s – something around 50-ish receptions and 650-700 yards.

So far in training camp, Bateman has been living up to his advertised potential. He’s shown great route-running skill and technique, knows how to make plays after the catch, and can play in the slot or out wide as a dynamic, versatile receiver.

With Jackson and more of the first-team offense back in action this week, we should get a better idea of how Bateman will perform come game time.

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Assuming he quickly recovers from his surgery, Bateman could easily become the Ravens’ franchise’s No. 1 receiver in just a year, but going into 2021, Baltimore’s passing offense is still under construction.

Patience, young Raven. Patience.