If you’ve read our contrarian Lamar Jackson prediction, this Rashod Bateman prediction might surprise you. Or perhaps you see what we see and which most of the fantasy universe doesn’t (yet).
There have been signals from the Ravens organization that they want to establish the run more in 2022 than they did last year when Lamar Jackson averaged a career-high 31.8 pass attempts per game. It makes sense, especially if J.K. Dobbins and/or Gus Edwards fully recover from their respective ACL tears by Week 1. Unless Jackson’s running game spikes to 2019 breakout levels, this potential shift should cap his realistic ceiling outside the top eight.
However, that doesn’t preclude Bateman from serving as a weekly fantasy starter with top-20 upside. Marquise Brown and his 146 targets are gone. So is Sammy Watkins (49 targets). While Bateman averaged a relatively modest 5.7 targets per contest as a rookie in 2021, there’s plenty of room in this top-heavy receiving corps for him to jump to 7.0 targets per contest as the unquestioned No. 1 WR.
Yes, Mark Andrews should continue to earn consistently high production. But beyond him and Bateman, there are more questions than answers. Devin Duvernay will be tasked with filling Bateman’s 2021 shoes as the No. 2 WR. Little-used Tylan Wallace (2021 fourth-round pick) and James Proche (2020 sixth-rounder) will battle for the No. 3 job, though we shouldn’t be surprised if neither exceeds 40 targets.
And although Baltimore drafted two more tight ends this year (Charlie Kolar and Isaiah Likely) – each with the talent to become eventual NFL starters – it’s hard to see how they’ll ascend to weekly roles unless it’s at Andrews’ expense.
This year, Bateman has a 2021 Brandin Cooks appeal – a No. 1 WR without strong wideout competition. The Texans, for example, were only 22nd in pass attempts last year and 26th in passing yards. Sure, Andrews’ presence caps Bateman’s ceiling, but not enough to keep the young WR outside the top 28. For context, 20 teams last year had at least one 1,000-yard WR. The worst fantasy performer was Terry McLaurin, who was the WR25.
Moreover, 27 teams had at least one wideout with 100+ targets, including 12 players on the 13 least pass-friendly teams. 32 of these 34 WRs finished as the WR37 or better.
And how good is Bateman? Can we trust him as a weekly fantasy starter? A 2021 first-round pick, he frequently ran behind Marquise Brown last year – and sometimes even behind Sammy Watkins – as he acclimated to the NFL. But the Ravens wouldn’t have parted ways with both of these veterans if they felt Bateman wasn’t ready to take over. In his first season, Bateman had a better catch rate and a significantly better drop rate than Brown and Watkins. He had double-digit fantasy points in half his games, just like Brown (and, of course, more frequently than Watkins).
Even more pointedly, Brown averaged 1.56 fantasy points per target. Bateman averaged 1.54. Simply put, Bateman’s low ADP assumes only marginal improvement on par with Cole Beasley’s 2021 totals (when he was the WR39). We see Bateman as a talent comparable to Brown, who should now command at least a 20% uptick in volume (114+ targets in 17 games) while assuming more scoring opportunities (Brown and Watkins enjoyed 20 red-zone targets last season).
Most of the fantasy universe believes Bateman will be better than his WR38 ADP, suggesting that his ADP should improve in the coming weeks. However, it assuredly won’t improve enough. 85 of 102 experts compiled by Fantasy Pros (83%) place him outside the top 22. Brown was last year’s WR22 despite competing for more targets than Bateman likely will. We would draft Bateman at least one round early on the assumption he’ll finish inside the top 22.
Rashod Bateman, BAL (WR38 ADP)
Contrarian Prediction: Top-28 WR