Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman becomes second NFL draft prospect to opt out due to COVID-19 concerns

Another top college player has opted out of the season.

Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman announced Tuesday morning that he will be leaving the program to begin preparing for the 2021 NFL draft. Bateman is the second potential first-rounder to make such a move, joining Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley.

Like Farley, Bateman cited the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming season with the coronavirus pandemic still lingering. Bateman, who informed his teammates during a Tuesday morning meeting, called leaving the Gophers the hardest decision he has ever had to make.

“Unfortunately, in light of the uncertainty around health and safety in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have to set my wishes aside for the wellness of my family, community and beyond,” Bateman said in a video message. “Because of this, I have decided to opt out of the 2020 college football season and I will be taking the next steps in my journey by declaring for the 2021 NFL draft.”

Bateman has first-round potential

Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck brought Bateman, a four-star recruit out of Georgia, up to the Twin Cities in the class of 2018. He made an immediate impact, catching 51 passes for 704 yards and six touchdowns as a true freshman. In 2019, as Minnesota emerged as one of the surprise teams in the country, Bateman became a star while making 60 catches for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns and teaming up with 2020 draft pick Tyler Johnson as one of the top receiver duos in the country.

Yahoo Sports NFL draft analyst Eric Edholm is high on the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Bateman’s potential.

“Bateman is an exciting prospect with a much higher ceiling than his 2019 teammate, Tyler Johnson, who was a fifth-round pick of the Buccaneers this spring. Bateman is a crafty route runner who makes hard cuts and can fool talented defensive backs easily. He looked extremely polished for a 20-year-old sophomore with only two seasons under his belt in 2019 and has the chance to be one of the first wideouts drafted next year,” Edholm said.

“We love Bateman’s my-ball, alpha-dog mentality and believe he projects to an excellent WR2 or a low-end WR1 when he enters the NFL. How he tests certainly could affect his draft landing spot, as Bateman possesses neither outstanding length for a possession-type receiver nor elite speed or elusiveness as an outside-the-numbers threat. But his production and craftsmanship speak for themselves, and Bateman is well-rounded enough to land in Round 1 if he continues his ascent along a similar trajectory.”

Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman, center, pulls down a reception over Iowa defensive back Jack Koerner, right, during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)
Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman had 60 catches for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2019. (AP Photo/Matthew Putney)

Other opt-outs coming?

Bateman likely won’t be the last prospect to opt out of the coming college season.

Farley wrote Monday in a guest column for NBC that he knows “a lot” of other players are mulling the possibility and “trying to build up the courage to do it.”

Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel explored the subject in a story last week with one industry source predicting the number of opt-outs would be in the 10 to 12 range. Quincy Avery, a quarterbacks coach who works with high school and college prospects, guessed the figure could be closer to 35 or 40.

“I know it’s on a lot of players’ minds right now,” the industry source told Thamel. “I wouldn’t be surprised if 12 of the 20 top picks don’t play their season. That’s a lot of good players not playing. It only takes one, and other people start to follow.”

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