That has never been said before in the first round.
Getting into that top tier of 32 players would make Bateman the first Minnesota receiver to be taken there since the concept began in 1936. He would be the 18th Gophers player to be taken in the first round and the first since Laurence Maroney fell back in 2006.
The Gophers picked Bateman from rural south Georgia in the 2018 recruiting course, and the four-star prospectus resisted a belated sales pitch from Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart to stay with the Gophers, where he was named Big Ten Recipient of the Year in 2019 .
Choosing Minnesota wasn’t a hard decision for me, and holding on to my commitment here wasn’t a hard one for me, Bateman explained for his Pro Day on April 1. Minnesota was the first Power Five school to give me the opportunity to make my dreams come true. I committed it on the spot. I’ve never looked back.
This is exactly how recruitment works, Bateman continued. The other teams came to bid just because Minnesota did, and I didn’t fall for the trick they wanted to do. I have built a strong relationship with this technical staff and this community. Minnesota is the place I will always return home and a place I will love forever. I’m just thankful to be here and I’m a Minnesota guy.
The only other Gopher taken in the first round to become a primary pass catcher was End Bud Grant. Before his hall of fame as head coach of Vikings, Grant was made 14th pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1950. The Superior native, Wis., Postponed his NFL debut to play for the NBA’s Minneapolis Lakers for two years, then defending as a rookie in 1951, he was the No. 2 receiver in the NFL with 56 receptions in 1952.
But no real Minnesota receiver can claim what Bateman expects to do on Thursday. But Batemans’ top rank has been questioned.
During the winter, doubts arose about Batemans’ speed, something he dispelled in February with a laser-timed 40-yard dash of 4.39 seconds. He matched that number on Gophers Pro Day earlier this month.
Before running, Bateman was measured at 6 feet and 190 pounds after being listed as 6-2, 210 while playing in Minnesota. He said he lost some weight when dealing with COVID-19 last June, but added that he never played more than 200 pounds in Minnesota.
It’s been like that all my life, Bateman said of doubters. Since I played at Tift County High School and now in Minnesota. Bateman used aerial quotes to indicate that some view the Gophers as less of a program. There will always be question marks about me, but I’m used to that.
In conversations with the NFL’s front office staff, Gophers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi said he compared Bateman to Antoine Winfield Jr., the Minnesota security taken by Tampa Bay in the second round last year.
Antoine has no weakness, Rossi said on Tuesday. I’m not saying he’s all top level in all categories, but he doesn’t have anything that stands out that he’s really not good at here. I think the same about Bateman. He can go up and pass. He can run through you. He drives really good routes. He has changed direction. He’s got gear. And he is a mentally strong player.
There’s also more history that Bateman and Minnesota will be making this week. Ten Minnesota receivers have been drafted at all since 1967 when the AFL and NFL merged, while none have come off the board in consecutive years. Bateman and Tyler Johnson, a fifth round pick for the Buccaneers in 2020, will be the first in that category.
Bateman said he will look at Tifton’s design with his family. Earlier this month, he said it was sometimes hard to believe his childhood dream come true.
Every day I wake up, I go through this process, I’m just like wow, Bateman said. It is coming closer. It feels real, but it doesn’t feel real. It’s really full of excitement.
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