Ravens WR Rashod Bateman feels ‘blessed’ by newfound stability after unexpected extension

BALTIMORE — Rashod Bateman took a deliberate pause as he considered how to address the one question that keeps coming at him as he goes into his fourth season with the Baltimore Ravens.

If everyone from quarterback Lamar Jackson to offensive coordinator Todd Monken to general manager Eric DeCosta sees potential greatness in the 24-year-old wide receiver, why did he only see 3 1/2 targets a game last season? Did Bateman show everything he could do only for the ball not to come his way?

“Yes and no,” he said Tuesday. “I feel like there’s definitely a lot of things I could’ve done differently as a receiver to help Lamar and help the team. But … yeah. Yeah, I’m just going to leave it at that.”

Bateman elaborated that he intends to worry only about what he can control — staying fit, studying, continuing to get open — as he enters a pivotal year, buoyed by a contract extension and hearing predictions of a breakout from Ravens teammates, coaches and executives.

He was the subject of much speculation coming off his third season in Baltimore, when he was healthy and frequently open but caught just 32 passes for 367 yards and one touchdown — not the production expected from a 2021 first-round draft pick.

Would the Ravens pick up his fifth-year option? Would they trade Bateman? Would he, in fact, prefer to start over with another team?

Instead, he made a headline few expected the day before this year’s draft, agreeing to an extension with the Ravens through the end of the 2026 season.

Speaking with Baltimore reporters Tuesday for the first time since he signed, Bateman suggested he was as surprised by that twist as anyone.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen with me,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was going to be here, traded, anything. The extension definitely came out of nowhere. [I’m] blessed, for sure. I did not see them doing that, but it shows that they believe in me. … It was a no-brainer. I love playing here. I love the organization. I love the fans. I still feel like I’ve got a lot to do.”

He compared it with finding a consistent place to lay your head after not having a house.

“That concern is gone,” he said. “I know who I’m playing for. I know what playbook I’m in. I know who my quarterback is. And now it allows to just go be myself.”

Now that Bateman’s place with the Ravens is secure and he faces no lingering health concerns, he finally has a clean ramp to make use of his substantial gifts. DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh have repeatedly said they expect him to excel this year. But the question for Bateman remains: What needs to happen for great promise to turn into great production?

Though Bateman played 16 games last year, lingering effects from the Lisfranc foot surgery that cut short his 2022 season slowed his preparation. He also had to compete for opportunities with veteran star Odell Beckham Jr. and rookie Zay Flowers.

“We certainly could have done a better job of moving them around, for sure, but as the year went on, Rashod really came on, and I’ve seen tremendous growth,” Monken said. “But again, [it’s] growth just because he didn’t have an offseason last year, in my mind; I didn’t see that. But I expect a tremendous year [from] him, and we certainly could have found a way to get him the ball more.”

Jackson, the ultimate ball distributor, agreed that Bateman needs to play a bigger part, an evolution that should be natural with Beckham out of the picture.

“He’s an elusive receiver, great off the ball, [and he gets] great separation,” Jackson said last week. “We just have to get him the ball. That’s all [there is] to it, point blank period.”

Bateman looked like a man ready for greater things during Tuesday’s offseason workout, leaving cornerback Brandon Stephens to munch dust as he caught a long touchdown pass from backup quarterback Josh Johnson and snatching several other balls in traffic.

“I think it’s happening right now,” tight end Mark Andrews said when asked what it will take for Bateman to become an every-week factor. “I think he looks incredible. Everything — his route running, catching the ball, being where he’s supposed to be — he’s got it down to a science. I know he’s worked real hard, but he looks about as put-together as he’s ever been. It’s going to be a big year for Rashod Bateman. I’m calling it now.”

Bateman had never dealt with a major injury before he reached the NFL. Then, he saw his debut delayed by groin surgery and his second season wrecked by the Lisfranc injury. Those setbacks combined with painful moments off the field led him to some dark days.

In that context, he said, a calm, healthy offseason feels like a godsend.

“Just having a full offseason, being able to be here with the team, being able to practice and get that chemistry down, it’s important to me,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen this year, but I’m just looking to go to work every day.”

Beckham was the wise man younger receivers leaned on last year, and their group chemistry is inevitably different with him in Miami. Flowers is now the big personality demanding that rookies do push-ups after they drop passes. That’s not in Bateman’s nature, but wide receivers coach Greg Lewis said he can be a role model in his own way.

“I don’t want anybody to do anything that they don’t feel comfortable with, or that’s not them,” Lewis said. “But, I do want ‘Bate’ to come out and work each and every day. What he does in the meeting rooms with the guys when he comes out here, how he practices, that’s just a testament to him, and that’s showing the guys what to do or how to do it. You don’t have to be a ‘rah rah’ guy and do all this stuff. It’s how you work and how you present yourself as a professional, and ‘Bate’ is doing a tremendous job with that,.”

Does Bateman like the idea of being an example to rookies, even as he’s still trying to carve out a greater place in the NFL?

“I feel like if you stay true to yourself, everything happens naturally,” he said. “Nothing about me is going to change. I’m not going to speak up more or do this more. I come in early. The guys know that. I’m always here early. I work hard. I write my notes. Hopefully, that shows to the younger guys and anyone else who catches on to it.”