A standout prospect with physical tools similar to Stefon Diggs who was named the Big Ten’s receiver of the year as a sophomore, the team hoped that he could become the true top-tier outside receiver that Lamar Jackson has never had.
While Bateman showed flashes of greatness in his rookie year, the base level of production appeared to not match up to the hype as he suffered through inconsistency and injuries.
While the fanbase and team still remain largely bullish on Bateman’s prospects in 2022, most arguments around Bateman center around the fact that when you watch him he is really good.
However, a deeper look at his rookie numbers shows that Bateman was both more statistically valuable in 2021 than it appeared on the surface, and that he could be primed for a breakout sophomore campaign.
Rashod Bateman’s basic stats
While Bateman’s 2021 base numbers of 46 catches for 515 yards and one touchdown appear underwhelming in a vacuum, it is important to understand the context in which they were posted.
It is a common trend in the NFL for rookie receivers to post better numbers in the second halves of their rookie years than the first. Rarely do you see players like Ja’Marr Chase or Justin Jefferson who immediately set the league on fire.
It is more common for players to experience a ramp-up period where they get used to the physicality and play-style of the NFL before breaking out in the second half of the year.
With Bateman, this rang even more true because of the way his training camp got derailed. Bateman had never gotten reps with Lamar Jackson because Jackson got COVID as soon as training camp started, and then Bateman promptly injured his groin and missed the first five games.
This meant that upon returning Bateman had to experience an even greater ramp-up, as he had to both be eased back in physically and get used to playing with his new quarterback for the first time as the season was going on.
Despite all of those obstacles, Bateman still put up similar numbers over his first eight games (in his case from Weeks 6-14) as one would expect from a receiver ready for that second-half breakout, despite playing a smaller percentage of snaps due to his injury.
Here is a list comparing Bateman’s catches, yards, touchdowns, and percentage of snaps played in the first eight games of his career to those of a number of other notable receivers who recently came into the league.
- Rashod Bateman: 32/404/0/59%
- DeVonta Smith: 33/421/1/88%
- D.K. Metcalf: 23/402/4/77%
- Jaylen Waddle: 48/413/3/83%
- A.J. Brown: 22/348/3/53%
- Amon-Ra St. Brown: 27/250/0/66%
What Bateman was doing in those games was no different than most high-profile rookie receivers, but he was putting up those numbers while playing fewer snaps. But when Bateman was ready for a greater snap count, Lamar Jackson was lost for the season.
Over the last four games of the year, Bateman’s snap percentage increased all the way to 86%, but he no longer had the quarterback with whom those snaps were meant to be played.
Tyler Huntley spent much of his time at quarterback force-feeding Mark Andrews like he was a toddler refusing to eat his carrots, meaning Bateman’s target share dropped from 13% over his first eight games to just 9% over the last four, even while playing more snaps.
When looking at the basic numbers, it is clear that Bateman was on the correct path as a rookie, but injuries and bad timing meant there was never a chance for there to be a payoff during 2021.
Rashod Bateman’s advanced numbers
While basic stats show Bateman’s unrealized potential, the advanced metrics point to a rookie season that was more valuable than the raw numbers would indicate.
Football Outsiders has a metric called DYAR, which looks not at the raw yardage total of a player, but the value of those yards. In other words, a five-yard catch on 3rd-and-2 is more valuable than a cheap eight yards on 3rd-and-12.
DYAR takes into account the value provided by a player and looks at how many yards they generated over a replacement-level player, before adjusting for the quality of opponent. The easiest way to think about this stat is as the yardage equivalent to WAR in baseball, with adjustments for strength of schedule.
In looking at receiver value, DYAR is more useful than Football Outsiders’ better-known DVOA metric, which follows the same principles of player value but is a per-play stat.
Bateman actually rates better in DVOA than players like A.J. Brown, Stefon Diggs, and D.K. Metcalf, but it would not be fair to compare Bateman to those guys because DYAR accounts for the difficulty of keeping up those paces for longer periods of time.
Even with the disadvantages of being just 68th in the NFL in routes run due to playing only 12 games and fewer snaps, Bateman still managed to wind up 46th in DYAR.
While nothing earth-shattering, that number is still extremely impressive given the context of Bateman’s season, and still puts him ahead of players like Diontae Johnson, D.J. Moore, and yes, Marquise Brown (who actually wound up negative in both DVOA and DYAR).
The reason for Bateman’s positive advanced metrics is pretty simple — he was really valuable when he played. Perhaps the greatest value a receiver can provide is in being a consistent chain mover and Bateman was just that with a remarkable 29 of his 46 catches going for first downs.
What’s more, Bateman was incredibly efficient, only dropping the ball twice all year while finishing 22nd in catch rate and fifth in contested catch rate according to PlayerProfiler.
No matter where you look, the numbers paint a story of a rookie season for Rashod Bateman that was not only productive, but indicative of future success. And while I am not a film expert, I can say from having watched every snap of his that the guy can play football.
With the recent departure of Hollywood Brown and the return of Lamar Jackson, Bateman should be the Ravens’ number one receiver next year, making him a prime candidate for a 2022 breakout.