Scouting Spotlight: WR Marcell Ateman
#3 WR Oklahoma State
6’4” 220 lbs.
40 time: TBD
Being a 49er fan, I usually find myself this time of the year scouring the internet for draft information and game tapes of the nation’s top Wide Receivers due to the annual need for the Red and Gold. This has made some of my early assignments very exciting to dive into. This week’s prospect is Oklahoma State WR Marcell Ateman. Like most of you, I assumed he was “the Cowboys’ other wide receiver.” Ateman, missing all of 2016 with a broken bone in his foot, came into the season as something of an unknown who had shown a glimpse of what could be his true junior year. In 2017 he cashed in on the promise he showed up in Stillwater with to the tune of 59 receptions for 1,156 yards and eight touchdowns.
There is a TON to like about Ateman. He is a big bodied receiver that plays big when the ball is in the air. What stood out to me is that he is different from most big wideouts in a sense that he doesn’t always play big. This is meant to be a compliment. Most taller guys at the position are usually, at best, average route runners. They struggle to create separation and don’t sink into their routes. My favorite part of Ateman’s game is that he constantly won at the top of routes with excellent footwork and head movement designed to put the defensive back on his heels. In most cases that would have been enough but Ateman constantly broke back toward the ball, never letting the ball come to him.
Ateman also shows good upper body lean off the line of scrimmage. By not playing “too tall” he is able to reach top speed faster.
The other part of Ateman’s game that was intriguing was his field awareness. This is an area where most young receivers struggle. Ateman showed multiple times that he knew exactly where the first down marker or the sideline boundary was.
He does a nice job tight-roping the sideline both while tightly covered and while open. However, he is not a finished product in that area. A couple of times I noticed he was forced too close to the boundary and found himself in a position where even if he made a catch he wouldn’t have gotten his feet down in the field of play.
Ateman’s hands will be the topic of some debate. Sure, there are times I wish he didn’t catch the middle to the front of the football and double clutch, but his playmaking ability, especially in traffic, is undeniable. He was strong away from his body and high above his head. Often, he was winning on 50/50 balls high and away from his body with strong hands and high-pointing the football.
He also caught the ball really well in traffic. A lot of receivers will look good at the Combine running the gauntlet, but are they able to catch the ball while they’re getting hit? Ateman has shown an ability to make those tough catches. The one area where it seemed that he struggled a bit was balls thrown over his shoulder.
He bobbled a few and downright didn’t track some others. Those bobbled balls will be knocked away by NFL defenders.
There are a few knocks that might keep Ateman from the top two or three rounds of this draft. The first is that he falls into the “One Year Wonder” category. Most front offices are largely uncomfortable with a lack of consistent production from college prospects. The inability to get on the field early in his OSU career may raise also some red flags. Because he redshirted his true senior year, Ateman enters this draft process as a 23-year-old who will be turning 24 in the middle of his rookie season. Teams will not have the luxury of being too patient and may knock him for that.
For being such a good receiver in traffic, Ateman isn’t very physical. He will compete in the running game, but he isn’t knocking anyone over.
He will break tackles due to his size, but does not look for contact after the catch. As I mentioned previously, while Ateman displays good, strong hands he struggled tracking balls over his shoulder in the games I saw.
Round Prediction: Day 2
Pro Comparison: Vincent Jackson/Brandon Marshall
From a 49ers perspective, Ateman is intriguing. A player that big who can run crisp routes and make plays in a contested environment begs the question of what can he do in a Shanahan offense with Jimmy Garoppolo? I’m curious to see what type of 40-time Ateman runs at the Combine. He shows good speed and certainly can create separation on comeback and dig routes. If he’s truly figured it out, then I think he becomes an interesting conversation that the top of Round 3 for the 49ers. While a good physical specimen, he needs to add weight. There were too many times he was knocked out of position on balls he should have caught. This led me to the Vincent Jackson/Brandon Marshall comparison. At 6’4, 220 pounds, with the ball skills he already possesses he becomes a real problem for defenses. Depending on what he runs the 40 in I can see him pushing his way into the 2nd Round, potentially higher.
(On a personal note, I’d like to dedicate this article to one of my oldest friends and Faithful brethren, Joe Medway. We met at the age of three and have been close friends for the past 30 years. The 49ers were a constant topic of discussion and the bedrock of our friendship. Sadly, Joe passed away on Tuesday January 23rd at the age of thirty-three. Love you, Buddy.)