We're now less than four weeks from the 2021 NFL Draft, and the Vikings' biggest needs are clearer than ever. After adding a defensive tackle and three defensive backs in free agency, this is a fairly complete roster with one glaring exception: the offensive line, which was a huge weakness last season that has only gotten worse this spring.
Outside of the O-line, the team's next-biggest need is on the other side of the trenches. Outside of Danielle Hunter, the Vikings don't have many reliable pass rushers. Adding another edge rusher or two — ideally players with the versatility to rush from the interior as well — has to also be high up on the list of draft priorities.
In that context, it's not surprising to see that the vast majority of mock drafts have the Vikings taking an offensive lineman or a defensive end in the first round.
But what if they didn't?
What if, instead, they continued to add weapons for Kirk Cousins, landing another first-round receiver to pair with Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen?
It's an idea that I've discussed in the past when considering the possibility of Alabama's DeVonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle being on the board at pick No. 14. But today, I want to float a different idea.
What if the Vikings trade back from 14 and keep Rashod Bateman in Minnesota?
I see a lot of similarities between Bateman and Jefferson, who went 22nd overall to the Vikings last year and proceeded to break the modern-era record with 1,400 receiving yards in an unreal rookie season. I'm not saying Bateman will have the same level of instant success that Jefferson did, but the similarities are worth noting.
Both players were highly productive in college; Bateman posted a 60/1219/11 line as a true sophomore in 2019, including a 203-yard outing in a huge win over Penn State. He opted out of last season after having COVID-19, then opted back in and went over 100 yards in three of his five games.
Like Jefferson, Bateman is an outstanding route-runner with a good catch radius. And like Jefferson, there were concerns about his speed and overall athleticism early in the pre-draft process. Jefferson quieted those concerns by running a 4.43 40 with good jumps at the 2020 combine, and Bateman had a similarly impressive performance at Minnesota's pro day this past week.
NFL.com's Bucky Brooks also made the comparison recently.
Bateman's playing style is like watching Justin Jefferson go to work on the perimeter. He utilizes every trick in the book and consistently finds a way to get open against man or zone coverage. Bateman's combination of exceptional stop-start quickness and savvy route-running techniques make him a difficult guard on the perimeter, particularly as he moves around to take advantage of favorable matchups.
Last year, Jefferson was seen as the fourth or fifth-best receiver prospect in the draft, firmly a tier below a big three (which included two Alabama players) of Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, and CeeDee Lamb. This year, Bateman is seen as the fourth or fifth-best receiver prospect in the draft, firmly a tier below a big three (which includes two Alabama players) of Smith, Waddle, and Ja'Marr Chase.
Jefferson was the fifth receiver drafted, and through one season, he's clearly the best wideout in his draft class. Are we sure Bateman won't be one of the best receivers from this year's class when it's all said and done?
If Rashawn Slater isn't on the board at 14, I would not be surprised at all to see Rick Spielman attempt to trade down, potentially getting back a second-round pick in the process. The Vikings would have a ton of options in the late teens or 20s after moving down, but I think Bateman is one that they should consider.
Pairing Bateman with Jefferson and Thielen would give the Vikings their best trio of wideouts since the "Three Deep" group of Randy Moss, Cris Carter, and Jake Reed. Bateman would be a massive upgrade from Chad Beebe, and Klint Kubiak would have the talent to modernize the Vikings' offense — as much as Mike Zimmer would allow — by increasing their usage of 11 personnel and throwing the ball more frequently on second downs.
After selecting Bateman (or another receiver like Elijah Moore or Jefferson's LSU teammate Terrace Marshall), the Vikings could use their next few picks to add offensive linemen and pass rushers.
I think it's unlikely that it happens. But with Bateman's potential to be the next Jefferson, I think it's something Spielman and company should think long and hard about.
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