When Washington selected John Bates in the 4th round of the 2021 draft, there was a bit of confusion and, maybe, a little consternation, on the part of the fanbase. The senior tight end out of Boise State had received almost no fanfare in the lead up to the draft, and, to the extent he was talked about in broader circles, it was usually as a late Day 3 pick, or perhaps even as an undrafted free agent.
For instance, NFL analyst, Lance Zierlein’s take on Bates was as follows:
In-line tight end with good size and room for more muscle mass. Bates has an athletic background in his high school past, but his play speed tends to be inconsistent as a route-runner. He’s lacking the foot quickness to uncover underneath, but he might be able to work up the field with more development. Bates will need to get more physical and improve his hand usage and footwork to become a functional blocker as a pro.
Immediately after the draft, however, Bill-in-Bangkok and I took a deeper look at Bates, and we both really liked what we saw, penning a piece on him the day after the draft ended. To start with, Bates was one of the best (perhaps the best overall) blocking tight ends coming into the draft.
John Bates is the 2nd best run blocker and pass blocker is this draft class:— PFF Washington (@PFF_Washington) May 1, 2021
His highest recorded receiving grade is 66.4 pic.twitter.com/yc0kJ8D5MY
As I’ve written previously, blocking well is one of the most critical skills for an NFL tight end to have, and it’s generally one of the most poorly developed in tight ends coming out of college.
The reality is, many pass catching tight ends never have to do much pass blocking in college, so NFL coaches have to throw them to the wolves once they reach the pros. And that puts coaches in a precarious position:
Do we risk our pass protection, and our quarterback, by testing a tight end who’s not quite ready? Or do we ease that tight end into the lineup, and hope that slowing down the process produces results down the road?
Coaches, predictably, generally choose option two.
Bates head start on the blocking front gave him a jump start on the second most important capacity for NFL tight ends: Receiving.
Despite being the 6th tight end taken in the 2021 draft, Bates ended up with the third best receiving statistics of any of the rookie tight ends.
Receiving phenom Kyle Pitts - who nearly all observers thought was one of the best tight end prospects of all time - was the first tight end selected, at pick #4 by the Falcons, and he lived up to the hype. Pitts posted the second highest receiving yardage total for a rookie in NFL history (1,026 yards) on 68 receptions, notching 1 touchdown.
Pat Freiermuth, considered the best “traditional” (i.e., blocking and receiving) tight end in the draft, was taken in the second round by the Steelers, and posted respectable receiving numbers (60 receptions and 497 yards) and caught an astounding 7 TDs in 2021.
The next three tight ends selected in the draft, Hunter Long, Tommy Tremble, and Tre McKitty accounted for fewer receiving yards collectively than Bates had by himself (233 v. 249).
Bates finished his rookie season with 20 receptions, 249 yards, and 1 TD.
John Bates: a film review - 9 plays against Utah State
Other popular tight end choices who went after Bates in the draft, like Kylen Granson and Brevin Jordan finished with less impressive stat sheets as well.
Bates’ performance even exceeded that of the promising prospect I had compared him to in the post-draft piece mentioned above:
He actually matches up very closely with Adam Trautman, one of the top TEs taken in last year’s (2020) draft, selected by the Saints in the 3rd round (4.8 40yd). Trautman was able to play in 15 games for the Saints last year - starting 6 - and collecting 171 yards receiving.
Surely some will suggest that Bates’ stats are “skewed” as a result of injuries to Logan Thomas and Ricky Seals-Jones throughout the season, but fundamentally, that misses the point. The only reason Bates was allowed to start in their stead - remember, rookie Sammis Reyes hardly saw any offensive snaps this year - was because he was equipped with the blocking fundamentals to be able to keep his teammates safe.
Had tight end’s coach, and apparent wizard, Pete Hoener, been dissatisfied with Bates’ ability to perform the basics of the tight end position, surely the team would have acquired additional veteran depth after it lost Logan Thomas for the season.
It’s going to be fascinating to see how the tight end room shakes out in 2022 - will Seals-Jones be re-signed, for instance - but in any case, I expect that we’ll continue to see Bates develop and flourish in the coming years.
Selected 2021 Rookie Tight End Statistics:
Kyle Pitts - 68 recs, 1,026 yards, 1 TD (Round 1)
Pat Freiermuth - 60 rec, 497 yards, 7 TDs (Round 2)
Hunter Long - 1 rec 8 yards (Round 3)
Tommy Tremble - 20 recs, 180 yds, 1 TD (Round 3)
Tre McKitty - 6 recs, 45 yards, 1 TD (Round 3)
John Bates - 20 recs, 249 yards, 1 TD (Round 4)
Kylen Granson - 11 recs, 106 yards (Round 4)
Brevin Jordan - 20 recs, 178 yards (Round 5)
In your opinion, was John Bates a good choice as a 4th round pick in the 2021 draft?
This poll is closed
I wish we had taken another tight end there. (identify in the comments).