In this year of stops and starts, lows and highs, it can be easy to forget fundamental truths.
Like this: Gophers wide receiver Rashod Bateman is really, really good at football.
Physically, he has all the tools: size at 6-2, plenty of speed (20.3 yards per catch last season), great hands and the hard-to-define football sense.
Those attributes weren’t forgotten during a basically unprecedented offseason, but they were overshadowed by the Big Ten’s initial decision to postpone its football season … and Bateman’s decision to opt out … and then both the conference and Bateman reversing course for a season that began a couple weeks ago.
So yeah, in case you forgot: Bateman is an exceptional player. He had 10 catches for 139 yards in Minnesota’s important win over Illinois on Saturday after an 0-2 start.
But his real impact is found in his body of work. For the Gophers, that didn’t just mean everything Bateman contributed to their program-altering 11-2 season in 2019.
It also means another potential program-altering moment during next spring’s NFL draft.
In Todd McShay’s latest rating of draft prospects, released Monday on ESPN (Insider required), Bateman is No. 8 overall.
No, not among wide receivers. All players. Trevor Lawrence at No. 1. A handful of other names. Then Bateman.
Writes McShay: Bateman will work the middle of the field, uncovers quickly and then has the soft hands to haul in the pass. He is a crafty route runner, and while his speed isn’t game-breaking, he will make an impact thanks to his versatility, ability to gain separation and terrific ball skills.
A lot can obviously happen between now and the draft — for which Bateman, a junior, has already declared his eligibility. (And yes, McShay did write at one point that Mitch Leidner was projected as a first-round pick, something he regretted).
But if Bateman keeps going on his current trajectory and is, indeed, picked as high as his potential suggests, then he will make a certain amount of Gophers history.
Minnesota hasn’t had a first-round pick, period, since 2006 when running back Laurence Maroney went No. 21 overall to New England.
If he manages to crack the top 12 overall, Bateman would be the Gophers’ highest pick since Carl Eller went No. 6 to the Vikings in 1964.
Having someone selected that high in the draft would be another marker of the Gophers’ ascent — a combination of team relevance, individual production and high-end talent.
That would be something hard to forget even in a year as strange as this one.