A Nyssa, Oregon, native, Bates projects as more of a blocking tight end with pass-catching potential. He finished his Broncos career with 47 receptions for 579 yards and a pair of touchdowns, earning honorable mention All-Mountain West twice.
Here are five things to know about one of the newest additions to the offense:
1. He was a high school track ⭐️
Bates dominated at wide receiver, defensive back and punter at Lebanon High School, earning All-Conference and All-State honors his final two seasons while emerging as a three-star recruit, according to 247Sports.
However, perhaps his greatest athletic feat during those years was his 2015 outdoor track and field campaign. He never finished worse than fourth at any meet in the 110-meter hurdles, javelin, long jump or triple jump and peaked during the OSAA 5A State Championships to secure boys athlete of the meet. He won the state title in the hurdles and the javelin, setting personal records in both events. He also recorded a personal best in the triple jump to claim second and added a fourth-place finish in the long jump.
"I don't like to lose, I'm a pretty competitive person," Bates told The Oregonian in 2015 about winning the javelin event. "Deep down, I just told myself, 'You can't lose. This has got to be the best throw, you've got to make the most of the opportunity.'"
Ultimately, Bates left his track and field stardom behind for a career on the gridiron, initially committing to Oregon State before flipping to Boise State. At the time, he was ranked as the No. 13 recruit in Oregon and No. 79 tight end in the country.
"My family and I have always been lifetime Bronco fans," Bates told the Corvallis Gazette-Times in 2019, noting that his mother, Laura, played volleyball at Boise State in the mid-1980s. "It's a team I rooted for growing up and always liked watching their games."
2. He is Washington's first offensive draft pick from Boise State.
Washington drafted three Boise State players before Bates, but all of them were defensive players in ninth-round defensive tackle Randy Trautman (1982), second-round defensive end Markus Koch (1986) and seventh-round cornerback Brandyn Thompson (2011). Koch was by far the most successful of the trio, appearing in 68 games (34 starts) from 1986-91 and being a part of two Super Bowl teams.
In Bates, Washington is getting the highest-drafted tight end in Boise State history and the first drafted since 2007.
"I've been dreaming of this moment since I was 4 years old," Bates told the Idaho Press. "I've put so much time and effort and work into making this moment happen, and the hard work paid off. With hard work and determination you can accomplish. ...It means the world and it's something I will never forget, that's for sure. ...Just overwhelmed with emotions and happy that my family and friends could be around me for that moment."
3. He's a proven blocker with the potential to become an all-around tight end.
Washington is confident in Bates' blocking ability, and who wouldn't be? According to Pro Football Focus, he was the second-best run blocker and pass blocker in the 2021 draft class.
"John's a guy who we feel like has the ability to develop into a really good blocking tight end," general manager Martin Mayhew said. "He shows some of the traits we look for: great initial quickness, power coming off the ball, uses his hands really well."
Bates said he takes a lot of pride as a run blocker but wants to be seen as a well-rounded tight end, even though he never recorded more than 22 catches or 273 yards in a season during his career. "I can stretch the field and make big, big plays and being able to do a little bit of everything," Bates told the local media shortly after being drafted.
Washington's staff and draft experts believe in Bates' ability to grow into more of a reliable pass-catcher. After Washington selected Bates, ESPN NFL Draft expert Todd McShay said on the television broadcast that "he catches the ball as well as any tight end in this class not named \[Kyle\] Pitts," who became the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history. Mayhew also mentioned his strong hands and large catch radius, while NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah touched on what Bates can do once he secures the ball.
"After the catch, he's got a little make miss to him." Jeremiah said. "He's not going to wow you with his athleticism, but a little slippery with the ball in his hands."
4. He impressed head coach Ron Rivera with his team-first mentality.
Rivera stressed the importance of "culture fit" before, during and after draft weekend, and Bates showed he would fit in well if selected during his 1-on-1 Zoom meeting with the head coach the week before the draft.
"One of my questions to John was, 'Hey, shouldn't they have thrown more balls to you?'" Rivera told NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay on an episode of the Washington Football Talk podcast. "And he said, 'Coach, I just did what they asked me to do because it's important. It's what the team needed me to do.' And I thought, 'What a great answer that is. This is a very unselfish football player and the type of guy you want on your football team.'"
Bates elaborated on he and Rivera's meeting in an interview with senior vice president of media and content Julie Donaldson, saying they had a "really good conversation kind of just talking life and football." One of the bigger points of discussion was about culture and their views on it, and at Boise State, Bates said players adopted a "lunch pail and hard hat" type mentality. It turns out that Rivera has both items in his office, which made both sides feel even better about a potential future partnership.
"We're both guys that do things the blue-collar way and we both have very similar views on that," Bates told Donaldson, "so yeah, it was tremendous."
5. "I love this dude."
Chris Cooley understands what makes a good tight end because he was one the best in franchise history, ranking first at the position in receptions (429) and second in yards (4,711) and touchdowns (33). And he is all in on Washington's fourth-round pick.
"I love this dude," Cooley said on a recent episode of The Kevin Sheehan Show. "He's my favorite pick through the draft for them in terms of where they got him."
Cooley, a third-round pick in 2004 out of fellow Mountain West school Utah State, said Bates' college film reminds him of his own college film. Neither player made plays in the passing game because of their speed (or lack thereof), as both ran a 4.80-second 40-yard dash. Instead, Cooley called him a "natural, down the field threat" who found a way to be productive when the ball was thrown his way.
Bates joins a tight ends room led by Logan Thomas, who was one of the most productive players at his position in 2020. Coming off a career year, a lot more targets are probably in his future.
But Cooley expects Thomas' rookie counterpart to contribute, too -- maybe even more than people think.
"All around, seems like a true tight end," Cooley said. "This guy's going to play a lot this year."