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Heading into the draft, the Jets are armed with two first-round picks at No. 2 overall and No. 23. It’s long been thought that the Jets might go quarterback at No. 2 – Zach Wilson? Justin Fields? – to start fresh with new head coach Robert Saleh and build from there.
But what about that later pick? There are many options for a rebuilding Jets roster to make an immediate impact, and some believe an offensive playmaker could be the move.
Enter Rashod Bateman, Minnesota’s top dog at wide receiver that scouts and experts have been fascinated with for some time now. At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Bateman took college football by storm in 2019 when he caught 60 passes for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns on his way to being named Big Ten Wide Receiver of the Year. And after opting out twice during the 2020 campaign, ultimately deciding to focus on his NFL future and prepare for the draft, Bateman ran a 4.39 40-yard dash time at the EXOS combine in Arizona.
Minnesota co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers’ coach, Matt Simon, couldn’t have been more thrilled to see that time from his star wideout. That's because Simon knew how much it meant to Bateman to break a certain stigma around his game.
“I’m shocked that people said to begin with that speed was a concern for him because I think he’s such a smooth [player] and everything becomes effortless for him on film,” Simon told SNY. “I guess I can understand where it came about, but speed has never been a concern for us or for him. He plays the game extremely fast. Even when he was in high school, we had a camp and we clocked him out and ran exceptional at that point. So like I said, I was a little confused I guess with the knock and the profile that came out on him.
“For him to go out and prove that on a stopwatch was really important to him.”
When Bateman got to the Twin Cities, he was already a top recruit coming out of Tift County High School in Georgia. And because of his talent and the way the depth chart shook out with the Golden Gophers, he was thrown right into the mix as a true freshman. He answered the bell, collecting 704 yards and six touchdowns over 13 games, solidifying his role for seasons to come. Now, he’s a prime wide receiver in a draft class full of intriguing prospects.
But there’s no doubt the most intriguing have been Alabama’s DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle as well as LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, who also opted out like Bateman. Does the Minnesota product deserve to be in that conversation, though?
Simon thinks so.
“Rashod has obviously been a proven commodity. He’s done it time and again,” Simon explained. “Certainly those other three receivers are fantastic players and I didn’t get an opportunity [to be] around them. I don’t know them at all. But I’ve been around Rashod and I can speak on him and it’s just his drive and desire. And the things he does off the field, the things he’s able to contribute in the meeting room and the community and on a football team, I really do think the things you don’t get to measure on tape and things you don’t get to measure on a stopwatch or a measuring tape, he has. He’s going to be a pro’s pro.”
Many draft profiles predict Bateman to be a featured receiver in the league, and first-round talent – even if it’s not as high as those three – is certainly there. And that’s where it could work out for the Jets at No. 23.
Yes, Corey Davis – who Simon coached while at Western Michigan – just signed a deal to be New York’s No. 1 option on the outside. Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder are also on the depth chart.
After that, there isn’t much to write home about. So if available, Bateman would not only provide solid depth, but has the play-making ability to make an impact immediately for Gang Green. In fact, training camp competition with Mims, who only played nine games last season in his rookie year, may result in a starting role.
And what might set him apart in a competition, if it comes down to that, is Bateman’s mindset on and off the field -- the biggest asset Simon think he's bringing with him to the team that chooses him.
“He certainly has a lot of physical tools and obviously a lot of people at that league have a lot of physical tools,” Simon said. “But I think his mindset in terms of his work ethic and his drive and desire is going to be able to separate him.
“He’s never too high, never too low. He makes a mistake and its water off his back. He just always seems to be just in control of himself emotionally and I think at that level, obviously with the stress and pressure and a lot of things that the NFL brings outside of the competition, I think he’s going to be able to handle that as a professional.”
On the field, Bateman checks off all the boxes as a receiver. But off the field is where Simon believes Bateman’s true colors show. He’s a kid at heart, but he knows work also needs to be done in the film room if he wants to reach his full potential.
“As a coach, he would wear me out with sending me videos with ‘Hey, watch this,’ or ‘Hey, what do you think of this,’ or ‘If I get this coverage, what do you think I should do with this route,’” Simon said. “He’s a student of the game at all times. Off the field, there’s nothing too big or too small that he won’t do. He’s just one of those guys who’s infectious and you want to be around.”
The Jets could use all the playmakers they can get, and it’s evident GM Joe Douglas is looking for them after bringing in Davis. And because of his connection to both receivers, Simon would absolutely love it if both of his former players end up wearing the same jersey when Bateman’s name is called on draft night.
“Naturally, I do think it would be really cool if he did end up with the Jets just with Corey going there,” he said. “Kinda talking to him the other day, there’s a couple teams that really, really like him.
“I know whoever ends up drafting him, he’s gonna make their organization better. Certainly on the field, but again, he’s has an awesome story and people want to root for him.”