Rashod Bateman recently posted a picture on Instagram of Odell Beckham Jr. and him holding Bateman’s maroon No. 0 University of Minnesota jersey. Bateman had written a note to Beckham inside the zero on the back and signed it.
Bateman, a multidimensional receiver who could be an option for the Browns with the No. 26 pick in the draft April 29, received something less tangible but just as special from Beckham, Cleveland’s world-famous wideout.
“The advice that he gave me — I’ll never forget it. He said, ‘Be you and have fun,’” Bateman said at his pro day. “A lot of guys get stressed out around this time, a lot of guys in the NFL get stressed out, and a lot of guys get away from who they really are as a person.
“Odell’s been through a lot, but he’s also been very successful, as well. Having him there in my corner, somebody I really look up to, it’s been important for me. I’m going to just take that advice, just have fun with the process and just be me.”
#Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr. and University of Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman trained together and formed a bond as Bateman prepared for the draft. Here’s a pic from Bateman’s Instagram. pic.twitter.com/dYQbchMbYF
— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) April 22, 2021
Bateman has been working out at EXOS in Arizona with Beckham and Seahawks Pro Bowler D.K. Metcalf.
“So just being able to be in the same room as them, see how they work, and them just giving me advice I can take and use in my everyday life, I’ve been very grateful for that,” Bateman said.
Matt Simon spent three years as Bateman’s receivers coach at Minnesota and added the title of co-coordinator before the 2020 season. He thinks Beckham’s advice was perfect for Bateman.
“Rashod is an unbelievable kid,” Simon told The Chronicle-Telegram on Tuesday. “I think he stands for all the right things. He’s not trying to be anybody he’s not. That doesn’t mean he’s perfect, but it means that he’s real.”
Simon said Bateman was star-struck when he first worked out with Beckham because he’d always admired and loved his game.
“Awesome for him to be able to experience those kinds of things and being able to understand what it takes,” Simon said. “Obviously he’s an extremely hard worker and just being able to validate his work ethic and mindset is really important for him.”
The 6-foot, 190-pound Bateman doesn’t have the jaw-dropping physical gifts of Beckham and Metcalf, but Simon didn’t hesitate to predict a similar impact in the NFL.
“I think he has an opportunity to be a superstar. I really do,” he said. “He’s one of those guys that’s never too high or never too low.
“He’s very talented. But I think the things that come with him, he’s emotionally mature enough to be able to handle the pressure of that league.”
Bateman’s even-keel personality has already been tested, as predraft scouting reports questioned his speed and cast doubt about his worthiness as a first-round pick. Then his agent tweeted he ran a laser-timed 4.39-second 40-yard dash at EXOS and Bateman followed with an unofficial 4.41 at the pro day.
He and Simon couldn’t figure out why the speed question arose, except that he makes the game look easy.
“I know this: He’s never been caught in college,” Simon said. “It’s never been an issue for him in the Big Ten. We never had a problem with it — at all.”
In 31 games with the Golden Gophers, Bateman caught 147 passes for 2,395 yards, a 16.3 average and 19 touchdowns. He caught 60 for 1,219, 20.3 and 11 in 2019, then opted out after five games in 2020 with 36 catches, 472 yards and two TDs.
He described his game as “all-around.”
“I can play in the slot, I can play on the outside. I’ve proven that, and I’ve put it on tape,” he said. “I’m a very detailed route-runner. I can catch the ball very well, and I am fast, even though some people doubt that. I just feel like I’m the whole package.”
Pro Football Focus is a believer, ranking him the fourth receiver and 18th overall prospect.
“Bateman has very few holes in his game,” the scouting report said. “His skill set should be NFL-ready next year.”
If the Browns are considering taking a receiver in the first round despite not having an immediate need, Bateman fits their smart, tough, accountable model. He switched to No. 0 from 13 in 2020 to show “zero tolerance” for racism, and he raised money for the University of Minnesota’s Masonic Children’s Hospital through running the 40 at his pro day.
“That’s my No. 1 job as an athlete — to spread positivity, send a positive message,” he said.
“He genuinely wants to make a difference in the world,” Simon said. “He wants to be able to put his impact on life, on a city. With a lot of the social injustice things that are happening across the country, he takes a lot of that stuff to heart.
“And he wants to be an agent of change. He wants to be one of those guys that gets an opportunity to use his platform for the better. Not a platform to be able to say look at me, but an opportunity to be able to say we can be better as people, we can be better as a community, we can be better as a nation to be able to change.”
Unless something drastic and unexpected happens, the Browns will open training camp with their top six receivers returning from a year ago — Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, KhaDarel Hodge, Donovan Peoples-Jones and JoJo Natson.
The decisions to re-sign Higgins and Natson and tender Hodge as a restricted free agent removed the need for general manager Andrew Berry to add through the draft. It didn’t erase the possibility.
Beckham and Landry will turn 29 in November and make a ton of money, and Peoples-Jones is the only true youngster after being drafted in the sixth round a year ago. An influx of youth and speed would make sense as Berry tries to balance winning now and preparing for the future.
The draft is extremely deep at wideout for the second straight year, so the Browns seem likely to grab one at some point. It was be a surprise but not stunning if it happened at No. 26 in the first round.
SCOTT PETRAK’S TOP OF THE CLASS
Ja’Marr Chase, LSU: Opted out of 2020 season, but it didn’t matter after he caught 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2019, setting SEC records for yards and TDs.
Jaylen Waddle, Alabama: Outstanding explosion and playmaking ability as a receiver and returner. Had four touchdowns and 591 receiving yards in six games last year before an ankle injury.
DeVonta Smith, Alabama: Broke Chase’s records with 117 catches for 1,856 yards and 23 TDs as he won the Heisman Trophy in 2020. The concern is he’s 6-foot and weighs only 170 pounds.
Other notables: Rondale Moore, Purdue; Kadarius Toney, Florida; Elijah Moore, Mississippi
Keep an eye on for the Browns: Rashod Bateman, Minnesota; Elijah Moore; D’Wayne Eskridge; Western Michigan