The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Football Season: Rashod Bateman
If you have already purchased the 2022 Fantasy Footballer’s Ultimate Draft Kit, Rashod Bateman should already be on your radar as a potential breakout candidate. However, a breakout is generally considered a top-24 fantasy season for wide receivers. Is there a path to an even better campaign for Bateman? Could he potentially crack the top-12 and finish as a WR1 for fantasy managers? In this article, I explore Bateman’s opportunity in the Ravens’ offense and whether finishing within the top-12 is a realistic scenario!
Let’s dive in!
2021 Season Recap
As a first-round pick, the expectations for Bateman to produce immediately were relatively high. Unfortunately, he started his rookie campaign with a groin injury that required surgery and eventually placed him on IR. As a result, Bateman never had the opportunity to build chemistry with Lamar Jackson as he missed the first five weeks of the season. Once he returned in week 6, he was clearly behind Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown, capping his upside on weekly basis. In 12 games, Bateman averaged (per game):
- 15.7% Target Share
- 17.3% Air Yards Share
- 42.9 Receiving Yards
- 9.34 Expected PPR Points
In addition, he only scored one touchdown on 68 targets, which is a number that should improve with Lamar Jackson returning healthy this season. And while those opportunity metrics do not necessarily stand out, it was still encouraging to see Bateman perform as the WR2 for the Ravens as soon as he returned to the field. However, if we expect Bateman to enter WR1 territory, we will need to see a drastic improvement in both his target and air yards share in 2022.
Laying Down the Path to a WR1 Season
First off, before we dive into the data, we should briefly discuss Marquise Brown’s 2021 season, as that likely provides a template of what we can expect from Rashod Bateman this year. In 16 games, Brown was the:
- WR11 in Target Share (26.3%)
- WR9 in Targets per game (9.1)
- WR18 in Air Yards Share (32.6%)
- WR23 in PPR points per game (14.1)
While those numbers are already very impressive, it does not tell the full story since Brown played with multiple quarterbacks throughout the season. With Lamar Jackson under center, he was much more productive ranking as a WR1 in both usage (expected fantasy points) and production (actual fantasy points) in 11 games. As you can see in the chart below, before Jackson’s injury, Brown was the WR10 in PPR leagues and averaged more points than CeeDee Lamb and Ja’Marr Chase. But once Josh Johnson and Tyler Huntley took over at QB, we saw his efficiency taper off, dropping him all the way down to WR23 in fantasy production.
Assuming Bateman can slot into a similar workload as the Ravens’ WR1, finishing as a top 12 wide receiver should be within the realm of possibilities.
As I outlined above, there should be plenty of opportunities for Bateman to take a major leap this year. For reference, per 4 for 4, the Ravens have the 4th most vacated targets available at the WR position at 196 (or 45.1%). In addition, there are a significant amount of high-value opportunities available as the Ravens are also tied for 8th in vacated targets inside the 10 (13 total).
As you can see in the chart below, Brown’s target distribution leans heavier into the opponent’s side of the field, indicating that he received more opportunities closer to the end-zone. With very little competition in their WR room now that Brown has been traded to the Cardinals, I expect a sizable portion of those high-value, vacated targets to go to the most talented wide receiver: Rashod Bateman. Lastly, it is also important to note that the average target share of a WR1 since 2013 has been 26.5%, and the average targets per game have been at around 9.6. As a result, Bateman needs to come close to those numbers if we expect a WR1 campaign. And considering Brown’s 2021 numbers are extremely close to those thresholds, Bateman should have an opportunity to finish as a top-12 wide receiver if he can replicate that usage.
As our editor-in-chief Kyle Borgognoni outlined in the primer, catch rate is not necessarily a sticky statistic. In fact, it is driven in part by the type of opportunities that a player receives. For example, a receiver that continuously gets targeted downfield will likely have a much lower catch rate due to the difficulty of those opportunities. On the contrary, a player that gets targeted around the line of scrimmage is expected to catch a majority of their opportunities, leading to a higher catch rate.
In his rookie year, Bateman averaged a 67.7% catch rate mainly due to his lower Average Depth of Target (ADOT) of 8.8. Marquise Brown, for comparison, had a much lower catch rate at 62.3% but averaged a higher ADOT of 11.1. For reference, wide receivers since 2013 who saw an ADOT between 10 to 12 averaged a catch rate of 60.3%. Therefore, if we expect Bateman to assume some of those deep targets that Brown is leaving behind, I would expect his catch rate to drop closer to the 60% to 63% range. That is not necessarily a detriment to his fantasy value as a higher ADOT usually leads to more fantasy points.
This brings us to Bateman’s receptions. Before we can project those numbers, we need to understand how many opportunities are potentially available in the Ravens’ offense. Interestingly, we saw this number increase significantly last year. Not only did they improve their plays per game by 12.8%, but they also saw the highest year-over-year improvement in neutral-situation passing rate (+9.6 percentage points). As a result, it should not be a surprise that both Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews set career-highs across the board.
While I do expect these numbers to decline slightly as their defense and running backs return healthy for 2022, I do not expect them to fully abandon their “balanced” play-calling. If we take their averages over the last two years, this leaves us at 66 plays per game with a neutral passing rate of roughly 48.3%. That equates to about 32 passing attempts per game. If we assume 3.5% of those attempts are likely throwaways or spikes, we have 31 targets to distribute. Based on Brown’s usage last year, we can project Bateman at around a 26% target share and a 63% catch rate. That would give him about 8 targets and 5 receptions per game.
As you may have already noticed, despite assuming Brown’s target share from last season, Bateman might average fewer opportunities and receptions due to the potential decline in total plays/passing rate for the Ravens’ offense. This is something we will need to consider when projecting his range of outcomes.
Yards and Air Yards
As I mentioned above, Bateman’s air yards per target were only 8.8 as he operated closer to the line of scrimmage while Marquise Brown was used more heavily as a deep threat. I expect Bateman to take on a majority of those vacated deep targets, likely leading to a much higher air yards share in 2022. Therefore, it should not be a stretch to assume an improvement in ADOT of at least 11.0 for Bateman, since that is roughly the average rate for a WR since 2013.
At 8 targets per game, that would equate to 88 air yards. Furthermore, the average receiver since 2013 has averaged an air yard conversation rate of 72.1%. In other words, most receivers convert roughly 3/4 of their air yards into actual receiving yards. Surprisingly, Bateman and Brown were polar opposites in that metric as they averaged an air-yards conversation rate of 86.1% and 62.1%, respectively. Once again, this is likely affected by their usage as it should be much easier to convert air yards into receiving yards the closer the targets are to the line of scrimmage. As a result, I do not expect Bateman to maintain an 86.1% conversation rate. It is much more likely that he performs closer to the average of 72%. That would convert his 88 projected air yards to roughly 64 receiving yards per game. At a 17-game pace, that would equate to around 1,088 total receiving yards.
Lastly, the most difficult statistic to project is a player’s touchdowns. While we can estimate how many times a player will find the end zone based on their volume, a player may not necessarily hit that number due to a variety of unforeseen factors. Leveraging historical data since 2013, the average touchdown rate based on …
- Receiving Yards is 0.61%
- Targets is 4.85%
If we assume the 8 targets and 64 receiving yards per game that I calculated above, Bateman should average around 0.39 touchdowns per game. That is right in line with Brown’s number from last season. However, it is important to note that the average WR1 has produced roughly 0.60 touchdowns per game since 2013, which would leave Bateman slightly short.
Naturally, quarterback play will also influence that number. With Lamar Jackson returning healthy (after missing the last 5 games of the 2021 season), that should improve the team’s total offense. In addition, Jackson actually averaged the second-lowest touchdown rate of his career at 4.2%. If he can return to his career average of 6.3%, there may be more touchdowns to distribute in this offense. And while it was a smaller sample size (11 games), Marquise Brown did score all six of his touchdowns when Jackson was under center at an average of 0.55 per game. If Bateman can replicate that, he should have a much higher chance of finishing within the WR1 range.
Hopefully, this article shed some light on just how productive the Ravens were last season, producing both a WR1 and a top-tier TE for fantasy with Lamar Jackson healthy. Whether Bateman produces similarly will heavily depend on how the Ravens approach their play-calling in 2022. Will they revert back to their run-heavy ways, or will they maintain their more aggressive passing offense from 2021? From a volume share standpoint, I have very little concern for Bateman as James Proche II and Devin Duvernay are likely well behind him on the depth chart. Therefore, it would not surprise me if he improved his target share to around the 25% to 26% range.
If we assume the Ravens average around 66 plays per game (average over the last two years), and a 48.3% passing rate (neutral rate since 2020), a realistic 17-game stat line for Bateman would be:
- 141 Targets
- 88 Receptions (63% catch rate)
- 1,551 Air Yards (11.0 ADOT)
- 1,116 Receiving Yards (72% Air Yard Conversion)
- 7 Touchdowns (0.61% of Receiving Yards)
- 14.2 PPR Points per Game
At those numbers, Bateman would have finished as the WR23 last season. Keep in mind though that the average WR23 and WR12 are only separated by 1.88 PPR points per game over the last five seasons. While that is not necessarily a massive gap, it would still require Bateman to finish above average in either his touchdown efficiency, air yard conversion, or catch rate. Ideally, the Ravens also maintain their more pass-heavy scheme from 2021, potentially increasing the number of available targets for Bateman. Regardless, while it is much more likely he simply finishes within the top 24, there is a path to WR1 production. And at a WR25 ADP, Bateman will be one of my favorite targets in all formats this upcoming season.