The passing game for the Baltimore Ravens is a tough element of their offense to project, especially with the willingness to lean on the running game more than anything. But by bringing in Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman in the first round, Lamar Jackson may finally have his top target moving forward, providing an outlet from relying on Mark Andrews, J.K. Dobbins, and Jackson.
Bateman may look like other wide receivers on this roster, like Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown, but make no mistake – Bateman was a beast for the Golden Gophers, and he earned a first-round grade for a reason by the front office in Baltimore, so he will be looked to early and often to help jumpstart the passing attack for Jackson.
Suffering an early groin injury in training camp that requires surgery is certainly not what you want to see out of the rookie, but Bateman will likely be on the shelf until late September or early October, derailing any sort of early impact he could potentially have. Couple that with the fact that Brown and free-agent signee Sammy Watkins are also dealing with injuries, and you have the perfect storm for the Baltimore offense to go back to relying on their rushing attack yet again, bad news for Bateman’s role.
Even with the injury setback, Bateman looks to have the backing of both the coaching staff and front office for the Ravens, meaning that he should be able to slide right into this offense upon his return, even if it is going to be later than intended to begin his rookie campaign.
39 receptions / 524 yards / 4 TDs / 3 rushing attempts / 17 yards / 0 TDs / 1 fumble
Bateman’s junior season was what put him on the draft map, as he produced 60 receptions for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging a shade over 20 yards per reception. His 2020 campaign only included five games, as he opted out – twice – and decided that preparing for the draft was his next best course of action, an avenue many successful, draft-hopeful collegiate players did last season.
Expecting Bateman to set the world on fire in this Baltimore offense is an unrealistic outlook to have, especially since the offensive game plan is not going to alter itself due to a high-profile rookie receiver joining the ranks. Jackson is known for his game-changing abilities, both through the air and on the ground, and his abilities to help command the attention of the defense through both areas will be what makes this offense function at or near the top of the league, with or without a healthy Bateman.
His consistent abilities to get open and become a strong target in college needs to translate almost immediately into the NFL, especially to help build that early rapport with Jackson once the Minnesota rookie returns from injury. But establishing his role in this offense a few games into the season may be a tough hurdle for Bateman to overcome, so expecting a slow start for the Baltimore rookie is realistic, due to his scheme fit and re-injury risk.
Skeptics love to pile on any attempts for the Baltimore offense to establish a consistent passing attack, yet Jackson has become a steady contributor in the passing game, even if his legs do dominate the headlines. Bateman may not be the freak speedster that some other young wideouts are, but he can help fill the focal target role in the offense for the Ravens.
Andrews and Brown are the biggest names that dominate the articles for reception expectations, and while Andrews should be able to reclaim his role as one of the top targets for Jackson, Bateman can fill more of a possession role to allow Brown to become the field stretcher that his speed and athleticism allow for.
Less than 40 receptions can be seen as a low output for a rookie WR in his first year, but that also will likely be spread out over only 13-15 games due to his groin injury. Expecting around three receptions per game for Bateman over the injury-abbreviated season is more realistic, even if those numbers do not necessarily produce fantasy-relevant thoughts.
The Ravens will be tasked with determining how their offense can produce fantasy-relevant passing targets (outside of Andrews and Brown), while also making sure they do not get away from their rushing game dependency. As Bateman misses out on key snaps during the preseason to get up to speed with the NFL game, Baltimore likely will need to wait until a quarter of their games are complete to see what kind of relationship Bateman and Jackson will have and how that duo improves their offense moving forward.