What’s Next?: Gophers wide receiver Rashod Bateman opts out of the 2020 season

Gophers wide receiver Rashod Bateman has opted out of the 2020 college football season and will prepare for the NFL Draft. Bateman posted a Twitter video on Tuesday to announce his decision. 

“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. 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 said in a video on his Twitter account. “Minnesota will forever be a place I am lucky enough to call home. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, I love you all.”

In just two years, Bateman became one of the best receivers in program history. He holds school records for freshman and sophomore receiving yards. During his career, he accumulated 111 receptions for 1,923 yards and 17 touchdowns. He also posted seven 100-yard receiving games and was named 2019 Big Ten Wide Receiver of the Year.

Bateman was one of the first commitments head coach P.J. Fleck landed in the 2018 recruiting cycle. Fleck and his staff traveled to a satellite camp in Georgia and offered him on the spot. That night, Bateman committed. Despite receiving late offers from SEC programs like Georgia, he never looked back. Bateman made his mark on Minnesota’s program and helped lay the foundation of Fleck’s culture.

“Rashod played a pivotal role in helping mold the University of Minnesota into an elite Big Ten program,” head coach P.J. Fleck said in a statement. “He was a joy to coach and has developed into an NFL caliber of player. We could not be more proud of Rashod’s historic and All-American career at Minnesota.

“My job as a college football coach is to teach, educate and help our players live out their dreams. We will certainly miss him. Our program will always support a teammate who makes a decision that he feels is best for him and his family. I love Rashod and will always be there for him.”

Bateman, a potential first-round pick, is now turning his attention toward preparing for the 2021 NFL Draft. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the college football season, he can now invest time into improving his own skills. As I noted in this three-part subscriber exclusive breakdown, Bateman’s detailed route running, dynamic playmaking ability and wide catch radius are going to be coveted by teams.

What’s Next for the Gophers? 

Following Bateman’s departure, the Gophers must develop a plan to replace his role in the offensive scheme. Redshirt junior Chris Autman-Bell will become the team’s top wide receiver. In 2019, he displayed a diverse route tree and won at all levels of the field. His toe-tapping touchdown grab against Fresno State was one of the best catches in college football last season. Autman-Bell also made several dynamic plays in space, including an impressive run after the catch against Penn State.

Among returning Big Ten receivers, Autman-Bell ranks No. 8 (0.62) in 2019 average Expected Points Added, according to College Football Data. With a larger snap share, Autman-Bell’s efficiency metric could explode. 

Wide receiver Demetrius Douglas’ role will also expand. Douglas, a redshirt junior, has played a smaller role over the past three seasons. In 2019, he posted 14 catches for 157 yards, including two critical third-and-30 grabs against Georgia Southern. Douglas is a shifty slot option with excellent hands and yards after the catch ability.

After the top two options, the Gophers are going to be relying upon young players. This year, true freshman Douglas Emilien could emerge as one of the most surprising players in the Big Ten. Out of all the 2020 recruiting cuts I watched, his film ranks near the top.

Emilien thrives in space and can be used creatively out of multiple alignments. His skill set also features an impressive 4.19 shuttle. This short-range quickness is one of the key aspects of his skill set. He is a very sudden and explosive route runner on film. Additionally, Emilien’s red zone releases and footwork allowed him to gain consistent separation. In a recent subscriber piece, I provided a long-term comparison for Emilien and discussed other key areas of his skill set.

Four-star wide receiver Daniel Jackson (true freshman) may also play an increased role in 2020. Jackson, the No. 2-rated player in the state of Kansas, stressed defenses. He created numerous explosive plays by releasing vertically. Jackson may align out of the slot or outside in Minnesota’s offense. He is very smooth in and out of breaks and displays impressive body control. Jackson consistently adjusted to passes and got into position for contested catches. 

Another wide receiver I’m keeping an eye on is redshirt freshman Mike Brown-Stephens. He is a spark-plug style player who can be used creatively in an offensive system. While attending practices, Brown-Stephens’ route running stood out. He could be an intermediate threat for the Gophers out of the slot. I analyzed more aspects of his game in this subscriber exclusive piece.

Physical Dimension of the Offense? 

At past stops, new co-offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr. has frequently flexed his tight ends. I’m very curious to see tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford’s role in the system. The 6-foot-7, 270-pound target may bring a physical dimension to the Gophers’ offense. He was a star basketball player in high school and displayed his wide catch radius on the football field. Spann-Ford can stretch the seam and provide another offensive layer.

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Nnamdi Adim-Madumere would also bring speed and physicality to the Gophers’ offense. Adim-Madumere, a Texas native, chose Minnesota over offers from Alabama and Baylor. In high school, he separated vertically and frequently made plays in traffic. He was a very physical receiver, but still ran a 4.48 40-yard dash at 6-foot-3, 226 pounds. 

Minnesota certainly has the personnel to add a seam-stretching element to the offensive scheme. Based upon Sanford Jr.’s past tendencies, I expect a new layer of creative vertical passing concepts will be an important part of the Gophers’ offense. 

Final Thoughts:

It isn’t easy to replace one of the top wide receivers in the nation. However, under Fleck and position coach Matt Simon, the Gophers have quickly developed young pass catchers. Minnesota prepared for potential departures, but this move definitely came earlier than anyone would have anticipated. 

Bateman had to make the decision that was best for him. He has the chance to be a first-round pick and needs to focus on his future. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season, it won’t be surprising to see other players across the country follow Bateman’s lead.

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