Ravens' 2024 breakout player? Baltimore has high hopes for Rashod Bateman

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — When it comes to predicting the Baltimore Ravens’ breakout player of 2024, the consensus this offseason has been wideout Rashod Bateman, a 2021 first-round pick whose career has been derailed by injuries and inconsistency.

Bateman has watched his wide receiver draft classmates — Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith and Nico Collins — sign contracts that average over $24 million per season, placing them among the top 10 highest-paid receivers.

What Bateman has received from Baltimore is surprising stability and unrelenting support. He has been given more praise than arguably anyone else on the team. He’s had a standout spring, making memorable catches nearly every practice.

“I think he looks incredible,” Ravens tight end Mark Andrews said. “Everything — his route running, catching the ball, being where he’s supposed to be — he has it down to a science. I know he’s worked really hard, but he looks about as put together as he’s ever been.

“So, it’s going to be a big year for Rashod Bateman. I’m calling it now.”

Andrews isn’t alone in this assessment. At the NFL combine in February, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Bateman is going to take “a big step” this season. During the draft in April, Baltimore general manager Eric DeCosta said Bateman’s “best football is ahead of him.”

This confidence comes from Bateman’s first healthy offseason and new-found peace of mind. He was not eligible for a fifth-year option after not attending the start of last year’s training camp, which kept him from accruing a full season.

But all of the uncertainty ended when the Ravens approached Bateman with a contract offer before the draft. He signed a two-year, $12.871 million extension that includes a $3.445 million signing bonus and keeps him under contract through the 2026 season.

“That extension definitely came out of nowhere,” Bateman said. “But it shows that they believe in, believe in my work, my ethic, [and] the team believes in me, so it was a no-brainer. I love playing here. I love this organization. I love the fans. I feel like I still have a lot to do.”

Bateman, the No. 27 overall pick of the 2021 draft, has struggled to stay healthy. He missed the first six games of his rookie season following hernia surgery in the summer. He was then sidelined for the final nine games of his second season after foot surgery.

In three seasons, he’s totaled 93 catches and four touchdowns. Over the last last 25 seasons, the only first-round wide receiver with fewer touchdown receptions in his first three seasons is Bryant Johnson — drafted in 2003 by Arizona — who had three.

Asked if he feels like he showcased all of his abilities last year, Bateman replied, “Yes and no. I feel like there are definitely a lot of things that I could’ve done differently, as a receiver, to help Lamar [Jackson], to help the team, but … I’ll just leave it at that.”

There have been questions as to whether Bateman and Jackson lack chemistry. It seems like both are rarely healthy at the same time. They’ve played a total of 28 games together in Bateman’s three seasons.

With Jackson as quarterback, Bateman has three times as many drops (nine) as touchdown catches (three).

“The ball just hasn’t found him in situations,” Ravens wide receivers coach Greg Lewis said. “He comes out here every day and shows what he’s capable of doing, whether it’s [in] practice [or games]. When he gets his opportunities in the game, he does that. It’s just about [getting] more and more opportunities, and then more and more production will come from him.”

Bateman has had a strong showing this spring. He’s been stretching the field and making touchdown grabs in the red zone.

Rookie first-round cornerback Nate Wiggins named Bateman as the most difficult wide receiver to cover.

“He’s just shifty [and] has a lot of quickness in the route,” Wiggins said.

The key is keeping Bateman involved in the offense. Last season, Bateman was targeted 54 times on 300 routes run. That target rate of 18% ranks 112th in the NFL among players with at least 30 receptions.

“I’m not worried about how many balls I get,” Bateman said. “I’m not worried about if [offensive coordinator] Todd Monken calls the play for me. The only thing that I can control, man, is what I can control, and that’s getting open when I can [and] blocking when I can. I don’t play quarterback; I’m not the ‘O.C.’ [offensive coordinator]; I’m not the O-line. So, anything else outside of that … I’m just here. I’m going to help this team out the best way out the best way possible, but other than that, maybe that’s a question for them.”

The Ravens need Bateman to have a bigger role. With Odell Beckham Jr. signing with Miami, Bateman is the projected starting wide receiver opposite Zay Flowers.

“As the year went on, Rashod really came on, and I’ve seen tremendous growth,” Monken said. “But again, [it’s] growth just because he didn’t have an offseason last year, in my mind; I didn’t see that. But I expect a tremendous year [from] him.”

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