Following in the footsteps of Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman, can Minnesota WR Chris Autman-Bell leverage his scouting report into an early 2022 NFL Draft selection? Autman-Bell has played second fiddle to Johnson and Bateman for years, but 2021 may finally be his chance to become the top weapon in the Golden Gophers’ offense.
Chris Autman-Bell NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Wide Receiver
- School: Minnesota
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
- Height: 6’1″
- Weight: 215 pounds
Chris Autman-Bell Scouting Report
While Johnson and Bateman have earned primary shares as playmakers for the Minnesota passing attack, Autman-Bell has always been a formidable ancillary threat. The Minnesota WR has never had less than 22 catches in a season, and he’s averaged over 2 catches per game throughout his career.
Nevertheless, while Autman-Bell has had a steady workload, he’s never been the guy in the offense. With Bateman now gone to the Baltimore Ravens, there’s a void that Autman-Bell has an opportunity to fill. But does he have the skill set to do it?
Chris Autman-Bell’s athletic profile
Autman-Bell has a unique build — in a good way. The Minnesota WR stands at around 6’1″, but he weighs a full 215 pounds. This frame density suggests a degree of contact balance and play strength, and Autman-Bell undoubtedly shows flashes of those coveted traits. His frame density serves him well at the catch point, as Autman-Bell can haul in passes amidst heavy contact. He absorbs direct blows better than your average receiver.
As stocky as he is, Autman-Bell has inspiring mobility and stored potential energy. The Minnesota WR has great lateral twitch and suddenness in his movement. Additionally, he has exceptionally loose hips, with the capacity to sink through direction changes. He breaks inside with relative ease and utilizes fast feet and smooth weight transfers to quickly break back toward the ball.
In open space, Autman-Bell has a lot of appeal. He has solid straight-line explosiveness in the open field, with the long speed to stack DBs and elongate the field. His burst in open space helps contribute to his run-after-catch ability, as Autman-Bell can negate tackling angles with his lateral freedom.
Execution beyond the physical traits
Autman-Bell is still a work in progress from an operational standpoint, but he has some utility, nonetheless. 2021 could be his year to put it all together, and an increased workload would only further magnify his ascent.
As a route runner, Autman-Bell has some awareness of open zones at the second level, and he’s shown to employ varying stride lengths heading into route breaks. He also manipulates pacing as a route runner to create displacement. Furthermore, Autman-Bell has demonstrated the use of savvy hand swipes at his stems to create separation. He improved his releases from 2019 to 2020, and his style features lightning-quick feet.
Down the field, Autman-Bell can gather passes in stride and turn upfield in one motion. He also shows impressive potential as a contested catcher. The Minnesota WR has great body control and focus at the catch point, with great timing, contortion, and hand coordination when attacking passes in the air. Autman-Bell flashes the ability to adjust his positioning downfield and track passes, although he could be more consistent here.
Perhaps most exciting, even beyond his upside in other phases, is Autman-Bell’s run-after-catch potential. At 215 pounds, he fits the “built like a running back” archetype. Although his sample size is fairly small in run-after-catch situations, he’s proven to have a dangerous stiff arm, and he flashes leg churn through contact as well.
Areas for improvement
Autman-Bell is a fun prospect, but he can seek more overall consistency in his game. The Minnesota WR isn’t always incredibly explosive off the line. He sometimes needs a runway to gear up. This doesn’t appear to stem from any physical limitation. Rather, Autman-Bell doesn’t always run his routes with full speed and urgency.
Going further, Autman-Bell’s releases could be more sudden and organized. He occasionally waits too long to get depth on his routes, and he can over-utilize his feet at times and delay his transitions. This allows cornerbacks to clamp down at the line and limit his separation. Farther down the field, Autman-Bell’s route tree isn’t incredibly refined at this point. He sometimes rounds out his breaks and veers into direction changes. He can also better employ and channel physicality at his route stems.
Among other things, Autman-Bell looks to turn upfield before he secures the catch. He has a bit of wasted motion in his upper body on occasion, limiting efficiency. His ball tracking downfield can be more consistent at times, and he doesn’t always sink his hips to full capacity.
Chris Autman-Bell’s NFL Draft scouting report overview
Coming into his redshirt senior season, Autman-Bell has never caught more than 28 passes. His late breakout may be a cause for alarm, but the Minnesota WR still has some withstanding upside this late in his career. He has great twitch and energy before the catch, with the toughness and proactivity to make plays down the field.
Autman-Bell hasn’t been utilized as a RAC receiver as often as he should be to this point. With his 215-pound frame, he can be a dangerous weapon. But it’ll be on Autman-Bell to iron out his flaws and find more consistency in his game. If he can do that, he has a sizable workload coming his way. He has the upside to work himself into the Day 2 conversation.
Chris Autman-Bell’s Player Profile
There’s always been an underdog aura with Autman-Bell. He’s been in the shadow of other stars over the entirety of his career in Minnesota, and that was no different on the recruiting trail. Autman-Bell was only a three-star recruit in the 2017 class. He’d produced 881 yards and 15 touchdowns on just 34 catches as a junior, but a broken hand knocked him out for most of his senior season and deflated his stock.
Autman-Bell — a product of Bishop McNamara High School in Kankakee, Illinois — only attracted three offers at the FBS level. Two came from Western Michigan and Central Michigan, while a third came from the Minnesota Golden Gophers of the Big Ten. Eyeing development over immediate opportunity, Autman-Bell chose to join the Gophers.
Autman-Bell’s career at Minnesota
To this point, Autman-Bell’s collegiate career has been fairly consistent, for better or worse. The Minnesota WR redshirted in 2017, then came back to join the offensive cast in 2018. He put up 28 catches for 449 yards, averaging a healthy 16 yards per catch.
In 2019, Autman-Bell reprised his role as the third option behind Johnson and Bateman. He again caught 28 passes and added 5 touchdowns to his résumé. However, his yards per catch dropped from 16 to 13.3.
The Golden Gophers only played seven games in 2020, and the passing attack led by Tanner Morgan took a step back. Those factors played into lesser production from the team’s receivers, but Autman-Bell still put up a similar stat line. He logged 430 yards and a touchdown on 22 catches, upping his yards per catch back to 19.5.
Chris Autman-Bell’s NFL Draft ascension
Don’t let Autman-Bell’s statistical production from 2020 fool you. While his raw stats are uninspiring compared to other benchmark years, Autman-Bell accounted for over 30% of his team’s receiving output. It might not look like a traditional breakout year, but relative to Minnesota’s total passing attack, he undoubtedly took a step in the right direction.
Now, with Bateman gone and a full slate of games on the horizon, the next step for Autman-Bell is clear. Can he put together his physical tools and become the three-level threat he has the potential to be? If Autman-Bell can continue to refine his route running and make the most of his run-after-catch reps, he could become the Big Ten’s next big-time playmaker.