You could almost feel the anxiety rumble through the Ravens' fan base when it was revealed last week that rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman would undergo surgery on an injured groin and miss "a number of weeks," according to Head Coach John Harbaugh.
The news revived unfortunate memories.
Six years ago, another rookie receiver drafted in the first round suffered an injury in training camp. Initially, it was hoped Breshad Perriman would quickly return to the important role projected for him. But his knee injury lingered so long that Perriman never played as a rookie, and that sour start morphed into an early career so underwhelming the Ravens cut Perriman after three years.
Fan reaction to the Bateman news could be summed up simply: No, not again!
It's an inevitable response, but my hunch is the similarities between Bateman and Perriman won't continue for long.
Yes, both were late first-round picks, Perriman going one slot higher, and both were injured early in their rookie training camps.
But I'd be extremely surprised if the arc of Bateman's career follows the same, disappointing trajectory as Perriman's.
Let's be honest. Amid a four-year run of stellar first-round selections that included Pro Bowlers C.J. Mosley, Ronnie Stanley and Marlon Humphrey, Perriman was the outlier. He had the size and speed to excel but ended up being a journeyman – now 27, he has signed with five teams and played for four in the three years since he left Baltimore. (He is with the Lions this season.) Over his career, he has averaged 25 receptions per season.
Perriman did show occasional promise while practicing and playing in Baltimore, but overall, he couldn't create consistent separation with his route-running and struggled with drops.
Bateman is a better prospect. He is not only fast, but also a versatile and polished route runner with sure hands and the "three C's" - composure, competitiveness and confidence.
Although he missed his share of practices before undergoing surgery, Bateman showed his wares on the field enough in the spring and summer to draw high praise from veteran teammates who know talent when they see it.
"The guy is pretty good," fellow receiver Sammy Watkins said in June. "He runs just about every route at a professional level; he's doing just about everything I've seen myself doing as a young receiver or any top guys. I think he's a very special wide receiver."
Humphrey, a cornerback, said he initially "couldn't tell" about Bateman when they lined up opposite each other and went at it in practice, but after a few weeks, he told General Manager Eric DeCosta, "I think we got a pretty good one in Bateman."
I hate to pile on, but no one was saying anything like that about Perriman before he was injured as a rookie.
No doubt, the timing of Bateman's injury is a blow to the Ravens' plan for him to contribute in a major way to a more energized passing attack in 2021. He'll miss hundreds of reps, and he'll pretty much have to start from scratch as far as building chemistry with Lamar Jackson. Jumping right in and contributing as a rookie will be a challenge.
But those issues are overcome easily enough if/when Bateman is healthy. The only truly significant question he now faces is whether he can stay healthy in the NFL.
We'll see. He wasn't prone to injury in college. But neither was Perriman.
I think it's encouraging that the Ravens elected to deal with Bateman's injury aggressively, by having him undergo surgery, with the goal of eliminating the issue before it possibly lingers.
When Perriman partially tore his right PCL at the start of camp in 2015, he put off surgery, rehabbed, tried to come back and continually suffered setbacks.
This way, it seems possible Bateman could be healthy and catching passes from Jackson not too far into the season.
I can't say for sure, obviously. But that's my pick as the likeliest outcome. And if Bateman is healthy, it's easy to envision him clearing this early bump in his road.