Chris Autman-Bell Has NFL Talent But Needs to Stack Reps

PHOTO: AARON LAVINSKY – STAR TRIBUNE

Have you played the backyard game, “500”? It’s an elementary recess game where one person throws a ball, usually a football, up into the air toward a small crowd of other participants hoping to catch the flying projectile. Around the same time the ball is releases, he or she will yell a number between 1-500.

Whoever catches the ball receives the point value assigned to it when thrown. The first person to reach 500 points is the victor of that round and now gets to throw. Much like dodgeball, it’s a great game to both build and bury confidence for young kids. Life lessons.

Whenever I see Chris Autman-Bell play football for the Minnesota Gophers, I think of that game. He must have absolutely dominated his childhood friends when they played “500” at recess.

I’ve covered CrAB for his entire Minnesota Gophers career and I’ve seen what he does when a contested football is thrown his way. He catches it. Every time. It’s very… Randy Moss like.

When eye test meets analytics

Chris Autman-Bell has missed about half of Minnesota’s games in 2021 due to a nagging “lower body” injury. But when he’s been on the field, he’s been really good, peaking against Nebraska. According to Pro Football Focus, CrAB has caught 17 of the 25 (72%) balls thrown his way. His drop % is 5.3% and he’s caught 7 of the 8 contested balls thrown his way.

All of those numbers are almost impossible to keep up but if Chris stays healthy I’m not going to doubt him.

More data needed for NFL Scouts

What we need from Autman-Bell is more reps, which means staying healthy. While he’s flashed moments of greatness throughout his time in Dinkytown, he’s never racked up more than 28 receptions in a season. That’s what happens when you play third wheel in the WR room behind Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman for the first three meaningful seasons of your college career. And in 2020, the Gophers only played 8 games.

As long as he can stay on the field for the rest of 2021, Autman-Bell should easily surpass his receptions total for a season. Let’s remember, CrAB is a senior. If he can put up numbers and more ridiculous highlights over the next six games, you can guarantee that NFL teams are going to have a bunch of interest in a guy who can play from any WR position and who catches everything thrown his way.

Just look at these eleven catches (for 111 YDS and 1 TD) vs Nebraska last week. High, low, overthrown, underthrown… it just doesn’t matter.

Blocking + Intangibles

But it’s not just the catching part of Chris Autman-Bell’s skillset that NFL scouts will love. He loves to do the dirty work that many wide receivers don’t. He likes to block for his teammates and he’s pretty damn good at it.

That’s not surprising for those who know Chris. He would run through a brick wall for his Minnesota Gophers teammates and is always ready to work. Not only that, he brings a constant and infectious energy everywhere he goes. People gravitate to Chris Autman-Bell. It’s a personality trait I noticed the first time he spoke to media.

He’s the kind of guy who will shoot up the draft boards if he can finish the season strong and get an invite to the draft combine. I have no doubt that will happen if he’s logging snaps.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan