Rashod Bateman Reflects On Rookie Season And Explains What’s Next For The Ravens

For any former rookie in the NFL, their second offseason is night and day from their first one. In exchange for times when they were unsettled and readjusting to the evolving speed of the pro level, they’ve gained a calmer sense of who they are, what to expect, and why it’s happening. It’s a reality most commonly seen by wide receivers, and Rashod Bateman is a prime example.

The 2021 first-round pick out of the University of Minnesota joined the Baltimore Ravens with clear expectations— to become a very reliable target for former MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson. Standing at 6-foot-1 with sure hands and capable of running a 4.43 40-yard dash, Bateman immediately boosted the AFC North competitor’s offense. But it was towards the end of last season that the NFL understood why.

Despite missing his first five games, the Tifton, GA native finished with 46 catches, 515 receiving yards, and his first NFL touchdown— scored in Week 16 against the eventual AFC Champion, Cincinnati Bengals. “Throughout everything I experienced last year, I learned what it meant to be patient,” Bateman told me. “Letting everything play out was the best thing.”

Coming off of a rookie campaign where both his catches and receiving yards were top-ten across a stellar wide receiver draft class, Bateman’s expectations have only increased again. After wide receiver Marquise Brown was traded to the Arizona Cardinals on draft night, all eyes are on the Minnesota product to step up and show out. But don’t expect Bateman to take that for granted.

“If it’s God’s will and we’re healthy, we can do some special things,” Bateman told me. “Our entire organization is good from top to bottom; we’ve been through a lot, and most importantly, we’re hungry.” As the NFL off-season continues, Bateman and the Ravens will continue to build towards what could be another competitive season in the DMV.

To follow Rashod, click here!

Sports Strength

Ranking The Top Five NFL MVP Candidates Right Now

With eight weeks remaining in the regular season, the 2021 NFL MVP race will endure more twists and turns as viable candidates further build their case to win this award. Alongside the annual inclusion of quarterbacks, who are always favored to win MVP, this year’s race could be historic. Can a defensive back finally win it? Could we witness the oldest-winning MVP winner in league history? Here are the top-five NFL MVP candidates right now.

1. QB Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals – While the second-year pro doesn’t have the most statistical advantages as usually-elite quarterbacks do, his overall value isn’t only tied to stats. If you take a comprehensive look at the Cardinals’ offense, Murray’s value is seen in every way possible; he’s at once the league’s best-deep ball passer (99.3 QBR!) while also being one of its fastest and most elusive athletes. On an intangible level, he’s repeatedly made clutch plays and has emerged as the clear-cut leader of Arizona’s locker room as a result. And it doesn’t hurt that Murray has led the Cardinals to the NFC’s No. 1 seed too.

2. QB Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens – If there’s anything that helps an MVP candidate’s case, it’s them consistently coming up big during crunch time. Beyond his gaudy and potentially historic statistics as a passer and runner, Jackson has amply supplied late-game heroics against the likes of Kansas City, Indianapolis, and now Minnesota, which is leaving a positive impact on voters and fans alike.

3. QB Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams – Even though Stafford will likely end up as the Rams’ sole MVP candidate, it doesn’t take away from him that wide receiver Cooper Kupp has also been mentioned in the conversation, albeit much less frequently. Both players are producing their best seasons yet as pros, and they have each other to thank for it.

4. QB Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The seven-time Super Bowl champion is one eye-opening run away from winning his fourth regular-season MVP. While Brady currently ranks second across the league in passing yards (2,650) and first in passing touchdowns (25), he still needs to produce more signature moments and wins with eight weeks remaining in the regular season.

5. CB Trevon Diggs, Dallas Cowboys – In recent years, quarterbacks have maintained a stranglehold over MVP voting but Diggs is looking to change that. Although defensive players rarely figure into the conversation (no defensive player has even received a vote since JJ Watt in 2014), the Alabama product is having a season that makes him impossible to ignore. With an NFL-leading seven interceptions (two of which were pick-sixes) and 12 pass breakups, Diggs is forcing voters to take notice.

Sports Strength

Why Lamar Jackson Should Win MVP, Again

The reports of Lamar Jackson’s death are greatly exaggerated. After a summer of unnamed NFL execs crowing this, finally, will be the year that Lamar Jackson gets “figured out,” it’s obvious that Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens are unsolvable. Through the first six weeks of the season, Jackson’s 8.7 yards per passing attempt rank fifth in the league and his 6.1 rushing yards per attempt are tops in the NFL. At the risk of being reductive, Lamar Jackson is a more efficient passer than Tom Brady and a more dynamic runner than Derrick Henry.

But because Lamar Jackson does so much, he’s unfairly knocked for not doing everything—he can’t win from the pocket and he can’t lead a comeback and he’s a system quarterback, his critics bleat. Conversely, nobody cares that Derrick Henry doesn’t throw for 3000 yards a year or that Tom Brady can’t run the inverted veer. 

This year, though, Jackson has been methodically putting old canards to rest—he’s led three comeback wins and his 1686 air yards are the second most in the league. Most impressively, he’s acted as the suture that’s held a battered Baltimore Ravens team together during their 5-1 start. Even without Ronnie Stanley (their All-Pro left tackle) or their top three running backs, the Ravens’ offense is the NFL’s seventh highest scoring unit. 

In this sense, Jackson functions as almost a gridiron version of James Harden, a one-man offensive system that can thrive regardless of the surrounding personnel. Just as Harden wills points into existence through optimized shot selection and sheer resolve, Jackson cripplingly destabilizes defenses with his running ability. His offensive linemen get more push at the line of scrimmage against defenses unaccustomed to the Ravens’ unorthodox ground game; his backs have an inherent numbers advantage in the run game because teams must commit defenders to spying on Jackson; his receivers enjoy free releases since defenses are so concerned with stopping the run. Even when Jackson isn’t at his sharpest, the Ravens offense succeeds because of the conditions that Jackson creates. During Sunday’s rout of the Chargers, Jackson had his worst passing and rushing game of the year and the offense still racked up 34 points. Jackson isn’t a system quarterback—he is the system.

Additionally, Jackson places so much stress on defense at all three levels that teams are inherently handcuffed against him. They can’t play man coverage, lest they risk turning their back on Jackson. They can’t line up in dime, lest they get mauled by the Ravens’ larger personnel groupings. They can’t blitz or else Jackson will simply outrun any pressure. Accordingly, Jackson dictates the terms of engagement to his opponents—he doesn’t need the pre-snap clairvoyance of Tom Brady because he robs defenses of their complexity. 

As such, the concern-trolling about Jackson’s pure passing ability has always been misguided: Jackson isn’t a pure passer, but he’s still the NFL’s best and most valuable player.

He’s great because he’s good enough.