With the Minnesota Golden Gophers' season in jeopardy due to a COVID-19 outbreak, Rashod Bateman made the decision to opt-out of the final three games to prepare for the NFL Draft. This is the second time Bateman has made this decision, but for good reason.
Bateman leaves behind a college career that saw him re-write the Gophers' record books and be named the Big Ten's Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year Award winner during his sophomore season, and he has a bright future in the NFL.
While last year's class brought Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb and Chase Claypool to the league, the 2021 class may be just as good. Even if Bateman didn't change course on his initial decision, he would have been toward the top of the class with LSU's J'Marr Chase and the Alabama duo of Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith.
The Draft Network currently has Bateman listed as their WR4 behind that group and fits the mold of today's NFL offenses. While teams have graduated to a more vertical approach, Bateman has fit right in, generating over 20.3 yards per reception during his sophomore year.
While TDN's Kyle Crabbs noted he may not be a possession receiver, Bateman may have dispelled that notion this season. Playing without Tyler Johnson, Bateman was still able to get 36 receptions, 472 yards and two touchdowns playing in a Gopher offense that struggled at times.
That should make Bateman an appealing prospect for teams either looking to add a top target or depth to their receiving core. In pure speculation, Bateman could fit in to several teams in the NFC North.
The Minnesota Vikings haven't had a third receiver since Jarius Wright left town. With Adam Thielen turning 31 next season, a future of Bateman and Jefferson streaking down the field should be appealing to Vikings fans with a pick in the mid-teens.
There's also the chance that Bateman might not even be there when the Vikings are on the clock. The Chicago Bears will likely lose Allen Robinson in free agency and some online publications are already suggesting that Bateman could be a replacement to catch passes from whoever is under center in Chicago.
Most likely, Bateman projects as a late first-round pick. A team like the Green Bay Packers could be another interesting target as they completely blew off last year's group to start Marquez Valdez-Scantling. It would be enough to make Gopher fans throw up, but a Bateman-Aaron Rodgers combination would also be scary for the league.
Wherever he lands, Bateman has the chance to make an impact early in his career. With a chance for his stock to rise during the pre-draft process (yet to be determined due to COVID-19), Bateman could be a hot commodity by the time we reach next April.