If Browns Take a Wide Receiver in Round 1...

The Cleveland Browns would almost certainly like to be able to take a corner or pass rusher in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, but if the value isn't there, the best option available could be a wide receiver.
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The Cleveland Browns have obvious needs they want to address at both corner and defensive end spots, but there's a real possibility that they could find themselves out of position in terms of value and go with another position. On pure value, the best option could be Rashod Bateman, wide receiver out of Minnesota.

Ja'Marr Chase may be the best overall receiver in this draft class, but Bateman has a strong case to say he's second, ahead of both wide receivers from Alabama. Bateman has three years of production, two of which are prolific and has all of the athletic attributes a team could want from the position.

Although it was disappointing that Bateman measured in at 6' 3/8" and 190 pounds as opposed to the 6'2" 210 pound size he was listed, he doesn't have questions about his weight or size that Devonta Smith is facing. And he isn't relying on projected production like Jaylen Waddle is.

Bateman never missed a game during his collegiate career for the Golden Gophers, though he did out out of their last two games when their season went down hill combined with his own issues coming back from COVID-19, which he suffered entering the season. The complications from the virus had a significant impact on his stamina and explosiveness.

Teams will have their doctors make a judgment on his recovery, which is its own issue given that even those who have had and recovered from the virus have been known to suffer long after the fact, including Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics, who stated publicly that he's been using an inhaler before games since he contracted COVID-19.

Assuming the Browns team doctors are happy with what they see, what the Browns are left with is an extremely durable, polished receiver that should translate effectively to the NFL. 

Even with a boat load of talent in terms of receiving options for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bateman's teammate Tyler Johnson was able to contribute to their Super Bowl campaign as a rookie, including their playoff run.

Bateman offers more raw ability than Johnson does, putting together an impressive athletic profile.

Athletic Profile

Age: 21 (Born November 29th, 1999)

Height: 6' 3/8"

Weight: 190 pounds

Arm Length: 33"

40-Yard Dash: 4.43

Vertical: 36"

Broad Jump: 10'3"

3-Cone: 6.95

Shuttle: 4.35

Bench Press: DNP

The first element that stands out with Bateman is his arm length. It helps to mitigate some of the perception of lost size, even though he didn't actually get any smaller. That's longer than most of the top names in this draft class only surpassed by the 34 1/8" vines of Nico Collins.

Bateman answered any speed questions, especially coming off a COVID-19 altered season. Had he run a 4.5, no one would have blinked, but he showcased excellent speed, which is critical to what the Browns want at the position.

His explosion is pretty average and his shuttle is mediocre, but his 3-cone is solid, which suggests flexibility and balance, which is important. He has just enough wiggle to be interesting.

Bateman's 2019 tape really showcases his athleticism and what he's capable of in terms of winning down the field as well as after the catch. Displaying the ability to create significant separation, Bateman was able to cash in a number of easy plays. Part of that was due to the fact the Gophers had two outstanding receivers, but being able to use his full athletic capability was critical as well.

Bateman is able to stretch the field, which is important for what the Browns want from the position. They are intent on getting faster. He's also able to be a threat to create yards after the catch, which would be a nice balance with Odell Beckham, who offers that same package. Much like Beckham, Bateman is a threat catching a pass on a drag route after the catch, then coming back the next play and beating the defense over the top.

The combination of the two could help the Browns create better spacing on the offense overall, which is something the offense struggled with in 2020, especially after Beckham's injury.

Bateman's ability to play both on the boundary and in the slot, having done a ton of both for Minnesota, is valuable as it shows the Browns he's able to play and excel anywhere on the field, allowing them to create matchup advantages and put him in position to succeed.

His long arms and the use of his body really stand out on tape. There are plays where he reaches out near the sideline and snatches passes that looked headed out of bounds. Bateman is also able to square up his body on passes that ask him to go vertical, boxing out the opponent from the play, enabling him to make the catch.

With the ball in his hands, he's a big fan of a quick side step to make a man miss before gaining yardage. He's got pretty good balance to absorb and bounce of of contact while staying on his feet to gain more yardage, which is part of why it was believable that he was over 200 pounds. Bateman is not afraid to initiate contact. Combining that with how shifty he can be, it keeps opponents guessing.

What really stands out with Bateman are his feet. He does a great job setting up his feet for success when he catches passes. When he catches the ball near the sideline, he can make sure he gets his feet down, but it's more impressive when he knows he's in the field of play.

Eerily similar to Keenan Allen coming out of Cal, Bateman will catch a pass while landing where his feet can allow him to completely change the flow of the play. Catching a short pass coming back to the ball with the defense flowing hard at him, he will land with his feet giving him the option to reverse field and maximize his yardage after the catch. He's taking advantage of what defenders are taught to do when it comes to pursuit angles.

His tape in 2020 can give the impression that Bateman is an average athlete, not unlike Tyler Johnson was for the Gophers. However, the compromised athleticism may have forced Bateman to be more focused on improving his technique and savvy as a route runner, which could prove beneficial for his NFL career. He still accounted for 472 receiving yards in the five games he played, 45.6 percent of the team's receiving yards.

Bateman has a number of techniques at his disposal to create separation. He's great at using a stab move, in an attempt to get the corner to open their hips and then cross them up. What's better is Bateman isn't satisfied with just getting the opponent off balance. He will often then set up another crisp cut to get where he really wants to go and remove the defender from the play completely.

Bateman has a good understanding that he's playing the man as opposed to the route. Knowing where he needs to go ultimately, he is creative, willing to improvise his path to reach his final destination to potentially confuse the defender by giving them a false key, improving his separation and giving him a better angle to attack the ball.

For all of the talent and polish Bateman has, he will drop some passes. In 2020, all of them came on crossing routes in close quarters. He makes plenty of plays on crossing routes, but perhaps there's a bit of claustrophobia that sets in and impacts his concentration.

He's also not a great blocker. Bateman loves to run off opponents, but when he does block, he typically just slams into opponents. Rarely sustaining, fighting for proper position, if the Browns were to draft him, that will be something they want to correct.

If the Browns were to make Bateman their selection, it once again shows they are always focused on maximizing talent rather than chasing after needs through the NFL Draft. It also begs the question what happens next in that room. Maybe the Browns are perfectly content to just add him and let everyone compete while having a ton of depth at the position, able to go six players deep with Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and likely KhaDarel Hodge.

The potential problem is that players like Higgins and Jones likely become the fourth and fifth receiver respectively. Keep in mind that the Browns prioritized speed in that third receiver spot in 2020 and Bateman offers more of it than Higgins, should be simply better than Jones initially.

It would simply be human nature for that to be incredibly discouraging to both of those players. Players the Browns do appear to value for their future. With Bateman in the mix, do the Browns then decide to take a similar approach they did after acquiring Jadeveon Clowney to then release Sheldon Richardson?

They could create a significant amount of cap space just as Richardson did which they could rollover into 2022 to help them sign players like Wyatt Teller and Nick Chubb. The other option is they could use that money elsewhere, perhaps in a trade for a veteran corner.

When it comes to the possibility of adding a receiver like Bateman in the first round, that's the immediate issue. A tremendous value, arguably getting top 10 to 15 player in the class and giving the Browns offense a potential game changer, it doesn't address the holes on the team they need to fill on their defense, nor does it provide a real clue for how they get there. Getting Bateman and then potentially making a move for a proven veteran  could be their path to add the most talent possible.

It's easy to see why the Browns would love what they see in Bateman and how he could easily fit into this offense. He looks like he could pair really well with Beckham and his ability to line up anywhere is attractive given the Browns use of tight ends and Kevin Stefanski's ability to manipulate and create spacing. 

It would add more of a vertical element, something the Browns desperately need to do to maximize their offense as well as Baker Mayfield while also putting more pressure on AFC defenses for how they will stop the Browns receiving passing game with Nick Chubb ready to capitalize on fewer defenders focused on stopping him.

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