April 29, 2021: The first round of the 2021 NFL Draft kicks off tonight. Former Gophers Rashod Bateman and Benjamin St-Juste are both expected to hear their name called early this weekend and I am here to tell you what people are saying about both players.
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Bateman finished his Gophers’ career as one of the most prolific wide receivers in program history. The Tifton, Ga native ended with 147 receptions (6th in program history), 2,395 yards (6th in program history) and 19 touchdowns (5th in program history). He now enters his NFL career as a sure-fire day-two pick with a great chance to find himself selected in the first round.
- Pro Football Focus (PFF):
- 17th OVR
- 4th WR
Scouting report: “There genuinely aren’t many holes that can be poked in Bateman’s game. While his junior-year production didn’t quite stack up to his sophomore-year production, much of the latter came after contracting COVID-19 and losing 10 pounds right before the season. He was one of the highest-graded receivers in the country as a sophomore and led the nation in yards per route run from an outside alignment.”
- 39th OVR
- 7th WR
Scouting report: “Bateman might be the best route runner not named DeVonta Smith in the draft class, and he has very strong hands in traffic. He knows how to use his body to box out defenders on contested throws, and he’s a strong runner after the catch. He also ran faster than we expected at his pro day, clocking his 40-yard dash at 4.39. I like the JuJu Smith-Schuster comp for Bateman, and I think he could be a very talented starter either outside or in the slot in the NFL.”
- 20th OVR
- 4th WR
Scouting report:”Bateman offers an impressive blend of route running, ball skills and competitive toughness into a frame that should alleviate any concerns about his projection to working on the boundary. Bateman’s collegiate offense utilized him on a lot of in-breaking patterns and finding first & second throwing windows via run/pass option concepts at Minnesota, but he shouldn’t be pegged as only a zone beater or “slot” target. Bateman’s ability to track the football and win at the catch point flash just as much as his smooth breaks and easy acceleration off the line of scrimmage.”
- 46th OVR
- 6th WR
Scouting report: “Bateman’s ability to win so immediately off the line of scrimmage is what makes him sneaky as a prospect. Similar to players like Keenan Allen and Michael Gallup before him, Bateman doesn’t have the flashy traits and so it’s possible he could slip into Day 2 of the draft like they did. I don’t fully see Allen or Gallup when watching Bateman, but he reminds me most of a smaller but quicker version of Cooper Kupp.”
- NFL.com (Daniel Jeremiah)
- 48th OVR
- 7th WR
Scouting report: “He is a better fit on the perimeter at the next level, though. He is sudden in his release and gains ground quickly versus off coverage. He has had some issues freeing himself versus press coverage, but those are correctable. He is very sharp and crisp at the top of routes. He doesn’t drift and does a nice job working back to the quarterback when necessary. He can adjust on the deep ball and won several 50/50 balls in 2019. However, he did have some concentration drops in 2020. He relies more on his strength than wiggle after the catch. Overall, Bateman has some room to develop, but he has all of the tools to emerge as a quality starter at the next level.”
Anyone that knows me knows that I personally am also a huge fan of the draft. As an unbiased party, Bateman is one of my favorite prospects in this class. His overall feel and route running is a skill that has historically translated very well to the next level. I personally think that he could be an elite No. 2 option for any offense with serious potential to be a productive No. 1. On my personal board, I rank him as the 12th best overall prospect and third-best wide receiver.
People often love to speculate about a prospect’s potential and predict how their NFL career will play out before even getting drafted, but ultimately the situation that a player finds himself in is arguably the biggest driving force in their success.
- Packers (RD 1: 29)
As tough of a pill as it might be to swallow for fans of MN sports, the Packers are likely the best fit for Bateman’s skillset. Green Bay has been looking for a No. 2 WR for quite some time and he could fit that role perfectly behind Davante Adams. Rashod would not be asked to do too much too early, and he would be able to develop at his own pace as his current skillset is a No. 2 option with No. 1 potential. He could thrive with Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball… unfortunately.
- Titans (RD 1: 22)
The Titans are another team in search of a No. 2 WR, now that Corey Davis left in free agency. Ryan Tannehill has had a career resurgence as an upper half NFL QB, and Bateman could be a great target for him. It might seem like Tennessee’s run-heavy scheme could hinder his production, but Davis had 949 yards and 5 touchdowns last season in only 14 games as the teams No. 2.
- Ravens (RD 1: 27, 31)
The Ravens are in need of any receiver help they can get, as their leading wide receiver had 769 yards on the season last year. This is a situation where Baltimore might ask for Bateman to be a big contributor very early in his career. His physical style of play and above-average run blocking could fit very well in the Ravens’ system.
- Dolphins (RD 1: 6, 18 RD 2: 36, 50)
Miami is another receiver-needy team, but with a lot of draft capital. It’s in a unique situation with Will Fuller on a one-year deal and Davante Parker already on the roster. He could certainly have every opportunity to succeed in South Beach, but he could still not be asked to do too much as a rookie. For how underwhelming their offense looked last season with Tua Tagovailoa at the helm, I am rooting for other options.
- Jaguars (RD 1: 1, 25 RD 2: 33, 45)
Jacksonville is a very intriguing team due to its insane volume of roster turnover into next season. With Trevor Lawrence behind center and Urban Meyer calling plays, we could see a completely different Jaguars team next season. With only D.J. Chark as a serious NFL-caliber receiver, the depth chart would be wide open for Bateman to slide in. He could find great success catching balls from the presumptive No. 1 selection.
St-Juste originally committed to Michigan out of high school and would go on to appear in 12 games as a freshman. After being rumored to medically retire from football, the Canada native would transfer to Minnesota and put together two productive seasons with the Gophers. The consensus seems to view St-Juste as a sure-fire early day three pick with the chance to find himself into day two.
- Pro Football Focus (PFF):
- 90th OVR
- 13th CB
Scouting report: “St-Juste is a unique corner at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds. He really made a name for himself in the Senior Bowl one-on-ones, where he earned the highest grade of any corner in attendance.”
- 76th OVR
- 12th CB
Scouting report: “St-Juste is raw; he started only 14 games for the Golden Gophers after transferring from Michigan. But I liked what I saw on tape. He has great length, and he’s not afraid to tackle. He was also good at the Senior Bowl in January. He didn’t have an interception in college, but I think that’s more about him not playing much.
- Draft Network:
- 92nd OVR
- 12th CB
Scouting report: “Benjamin St-Juste is a long-bodied cornerback who shows some promise as a perimeter cornerback. St-Juste isn’t the most dynamic athlete and he doesn’t appear to be a universal prospect, but his skill set and length will be attractive to either press-man heavy defenses or alternative deep third coverages. St-Juste has all of the extension skills and length needed to contest the catch point with consistency and when he’s able to stay on the hip of receivers he’s got ample disruption. Transitional quickness and long speed are not plus qualities and thus St-Juste will need to continue to work on his route recognition and route combination recognition if he’s going to develop into a viable starting cornerback at the pro level. As things currently stand, this is a traitsy prospect who offers some of the “uncoachables” for the position and his draft stock should be reflected accordingly to scheme-specific systems. “
- 112th OVR
- 17th CB
- Grade: 6.15
- 15th CB
Scouting report: “St-Juste is behind in terms of his feel and instincts. His route recognition is below average and his change of direction in coverage can be clunky, but those areas can improve with more experiences and technique work. He’s a brute at the catch point, tilting contested catches in his favor, and he has some excellent tape as a tackler who finishes what he starts with form and strength. Finding the proper scheme fit will be important and a move to safety is a possibility. A team could see a noticeable improvement in his play within the first two years, but he’s a developmental prospect with good upside at this juncture.”
I have St-Juste as the No. 82 overall player on my board and the No. 9 cornerback in the draft. I think he has terrific tools and potential to find success in the NFL. His flash plays show how high his ceiling can be, but his inconsistency and time to get lazy from time to time raises some concerns. If he finds himself in a great situation such as the 49ers of Cowboys, St-Juste could carve out a serious career as a No. 2 or No. 3 CB in the NFL.
As a cornerback with great length, St-Juste would fit best in systems that predominantly run a press-man scheme. These are just a handful of teams that would be great landing spots for him.
- 49ers (RD 2: 43 RD 3: 102 RD 4: 117 RD 5: 155, 172, 180)
The 49ers are a team that loves to run press-man coverage. His 6-foot-3 length is something that the current front office has wanted in defensive backs. With Richard Sherman and Jason Verrett aging, St-Juste could learn from the veterans in year one and step in and contribute in year two.
- Cowboys (RD 2: 44 RD 3: 75, 99 RD 4: 115, 138 RD 5: 179)
New Cowboys DC Dan Quinn has loved to run a press-man scheme all the way back to his days in Seattle. He was part of Seattle’s legion of boom era when they were one of the first teams to fully embrace the bigger cornerbacks. Dallas is very thin at the position with a lot of question marks, therefore St-Juste could be a great fit.
- Seahawks (RD 2: 56 RD 4: 129)
Seattle has always loved tall and long cornerbacks. It continues to be in the market for one, as it really hasn’t been a dominant unit since the fall of the Legion of Boom. Ben could step in and contribute right away, to another team that fits his skill set very well.
- Steelers (RD 2: 55 RD 3: 87 RD 4: 128 RD 4: 140)
After the Senior Bowl, St-Juste mentioned the Steelers along with Seattle and San Francisco as teams that he says to have a good relationship with. The Steelers’ cornerbacks are on the downslope of their careers, so Pittsburgh could be a great situation. He could learn behind Joe Haden and Steven Nelson, with the chance to contribute right away.
- Cheifs (RD 2: 58, 63 RD 4: 144 RD 5: 175, 181)
Cornerback is a major hole for the Chiefs, as L’Jarius Sneed is really their only established starter. St-Juste could step in and contribute right away for a competent organization that fits his press-man skillset very well. With the roots of previously having another former UMN standout Damien Wilson, KC could be a great landing spot.
*With so much returning production, St. Juste and Bateman are likely the only two Gophers to hear their names called, and likely the only two to find themselves on an NFL roster next season.