The 2018 NFL Draft was not flush with wide receiver talent. Just two receivers went in the first round, the lowest total since 2010. NFL.com graded only one wide receiver prospect higher than a 6.0 this year. On the site’s ten-point scale, that grade indicates a player who should become an instant starter. In all, 33 receivers were selected. Oakland devoid of top-end receiver talent waited until the seventh round to draft a wideout. Their selection, 6’5” Marcell Ateman, was the twenty-ninth wide receiver taken, but he may end up being the biggest steal of the whole draft.
Marcell Ateman was often overlooked at Oklahoma State, playing second fiddle to James Washington, who was selected by the Steelers in the second round in this year’s draft. Ateman’s 1,156 receiving yards, thirteenth in the NCAA, were overshadowed by Washington’s nation-leading 1,549 yards. James Washington tied for fourth-most in college football with 13 receiving touchdowns, eclipsing Ateman’s eight touchdowns. While nine of Washington’s scores were from outside the red zone, half of Ateman’s were within twenty yards of the end zone, plus one he caught from 21 yards out. OSU quarterback Mason Rudolph (also drafted by the Steelers) was not very productive in the red zone, completing just half of his 68 attempts and throwing two interceptions. Had Ateman been playing with a better red zone quarterback, he might have had even more touchdowns, but that’s just useless speculation at this point.
Even as the second wide receiver, Ateman produced, and produced big time. According to Pro Football Focus, Ateman had the fourth-highest passer rating when targeted among 2018 Draft wide receivers, at 134.7. Furthermore, Ateman can run a full route tree. His passer ratings when targeted on ins, outs, comebacks, hitches, and go routes were all at least 31.5 points above the NCAA average, with is 158.3 rating on outs 83.9 points higher than the national average.
Ateman made the most of his opportunities, ranking second in the draft class with 3.52 yards per route run, per PFF. Washington and Ateman were the only duo in the NCAA to each have at least 1,100 receiving yards. Ateman’s production would have easily placed him at WR1 on more than a handful of college teams. In fact, he was the fourth-highest rated wide receiver in the 2018 draft class, according to PFF, with an overall grade of 87.9, even higher than his OSU teammate.
The biggest knock on Ateman is his relatively slow speed. He lumbered through a 4.62 40-yard dash at the Combine, which is the 23rd percentile for receivers. However, due to his size, his speed score, according to Player Profiler, is 100.0, placing him at a much more respectable 69th percentile. His 19.6 yards per reception from his 2017 season imply downfield ability. He had a 69-yard touchdown reception against Pitt last season, showing that he is more than just a red zone threat. Ateman also displayed excellent body control on the sideline, avoiding both the tackle and stepping out of bounds. The long touchdown was due more to poor defensive back play than Ateman outrunning anybody. Regardless, he displayed downfield ability beyond just jumping vertically in the end zone.
Before you say that a seventh-round pick has no chance to make a fantasy impact, let me remind you of a couple of notable receivers taken in the final round of the draft. The Packers drafted Donald Driver in 2000, and he amassed over 10,000 career yards. Marques Colston, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and Steve Johnson all emerged from the seventh round and became exceptional players. This year, former seventh-rounders Julian Edelman and Rishard Matthews have ADPs of 72 and 145, respectively, in PPR leagues. Receivers taken late in the draft do not always pan out, but there is a precedent for them to become successful.
Currently buried on the Raiders depth chart, Ateman appears to have little chance to be a significant contributor this season. He’s behind Jordy Nelson and Amari Cooper. Other wideouts Martavis Bryant, Seth Roberts, and Ryan Switzer also stand in his way. Ateman may, however, have more of a shot than it initially seems. Reports have surfaced that head coach Jon Gruden is not happy with Bryant’s poor performance in training camp. Since the draft and initial trade for Bryant, Oakland has considered trading Roberts, who has not been impressive during his three-year career. Theoretically, Ateman could begin the season as the fourth wide receiver with immense red zone potential.
Nelson (6’3”) and Cooper (6’1”) are large receivers and yet Ateman towers above both of them. His immense height puts him at the 94th percentile among NFL wide receivers and his weight coming out of college, 216 pounds, is already the 82nd percentile. Ateman is an imposing red zone threat, something the Raiders desperately need. Tight end Jared Cook, who also stands at 6’5”, had one red zone reception last season and was only targeted seven times inside the twenty-yard line. He is also 31 years old and will likely begin to decline.
Somehow, Marcell Ateman slipped all the way to the seventh round, and the Oakland Raiders gladly snatched him up. He needs to improve on outmuscling defenders and using his frame to his advantage. His routes also need refining, but Ateman proved he has the determination to work as hard as he needs to, returning from a foot injury that caused him to miss the entire 2016 season. The big-bodied wideout slides in nicely to Jon Gruden’s physical offense and could show off early as a rookie. His size lends nicely to run blocking, and while his technique needs polishing, he showed an eagerness to pave holes for runners in college. Don’t sleep on Marcell Ateman like the rest of the NFL did. He is certainly worth at least a late-round flyer for dynasties and could develop into a bona fide star in the not-too-distant future.
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