Patriots rookie Mark Harrison might have been the best wide receiver on the 2013 Rutgers squad, but I’m not sure he was the most promising. That title may belong to Brandon Coleman, a 6’6″, 220-pound rising senior. Even if Coleman’s listed height gets exposed as SID-speak (Sports Information Department – also known as athletic department PR) for a true height of 6’4″, the Scarlet Knight receiver has the type of physical skills and raw technical grasp of the position to earn attention from the NFL. Some are already projecting that attention will translate to an early round pick.
I see the reasons why, but I have the luxury that many working for media corporations do not: I don’t have to deliver rankings for the 2014 class before I’ve seen enough of the class to make an informed decision. Next time you think about asking a draft analyst why a certain player was ranked so well heading into a season but by March he has a late-round grade, keep what I said in mind. It won’t always be the case, but it does pay to think critically about the nature of the business and not just about the nature of the player.
I think Coleman is the type of player whose stock could fluctuate greatly in either direction. I have studied two games of Coleman’s thus far and I can tell you that I don’t have enough information to feel comfortable saying where he stacks up. However, I enjoy writing about these murky situations. There’s often something worth sharing that the clear-cut, bottom-line answer doesn’t reveal.
What I see from Coleman that could elevate him to the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft is height, weight, speed, and the ability to adjust to the football and make these adjustments with his hands well away from the football. This 1st-and-10 target with 9:47 in the first quarter from the Rutgers seven is a good example. Coleman is the outside receiver on the twin side of an 11 personnel, 2×1 receiver set.
The Syracuse corner assigned to Coleman is a yard off the line of scrimmage and shaded outside the receiver. Coleman works outside the corner and out runs the defender, earning a step of separation at the 25 and extending his arms to make the catch on a fade route.
Watch the replay that follows. Coleman uses his inside arm early in the route to ward off the defender’s attempt to jam him before making a nice adjustment to the ball, fading to the sideline late as the ball arrives. I especially like how Coleman secured the football. He does a nice job of using his hands and fingertips to stab the ball with his outside arm as it arrives over his inside shoulder and then secure the pass to his body with his inside arm.
This is good coordination and fluid athleticism while in the act of veering away from the defender at the last moment. This late move to achieve horizontal separation is a less-discussed aspect of getting open because the emphasis is always about getting behind the defender and that is only part of the equation. Overall, it’s a nice adjustment for a 26-yard gain.
It’s the type of play that falls into Coleman’s wheelhouse as a tall, fast, long-armed receiver. What I want to see Coleman do in 2014 is run routes with hard breaks and make catches after contact when the defender is able to lower his pads and drive through the contact as Coleman is attacking the football. If he can exhibit good technique and consistent production in these two facets of his game, Coleman will earn that high ranking.
Another thing that clouds the draft-day picture for Coleman is quarterback play at Rutgers. Coleman earned nine targets against Syracuse and all but three of those targets were to some degree errant throws that required an adjustment. None of the adjustments I categorized as difficult targets, but they were closer to that end of the spectrum than they should have been:
- Under thrown deep targets
- Passes thrown hard and behind the receiver’s break on short routes
- Late throws that prevent the receiver from running under the ball and away from the defender
An example of what Coleman is missing from the quarterback position is this deep post with 6:46 in the first quarter on 2nd-and-five from a 12 personnel twin right formation. Coleman is the inside the receiver in this twin set and has a corner at the line of scrimmage shading the receiver to the outside.
The free safety is at the hash about eight yards deep and the strong safety and linebackers are five-six yards off the line of scrimmage in the middle of he field. The strong safety’s depth is the key for Coleman and his quarterback to know that a deep post that breaks right to left will come open behind the strong safety. Watch from 0:25-0:31 below:
At first glance, it appears that Coleman runs a deep post but cannot catch up to the pass as the ball lands near the Syracuse 10. Because we only see Coleman’s initial release and then him chasing the ball, one might conclude with this limited information that the receiver could not work past the corner and failed to get separation early enough to run under the ball. Watch the replay focused on the receiver’s route:
Coleman does face contact from the corner and he’s also in the path of the free safety over top, but the Rutgers receiver does a nice job of using his outside arm to keep the defender away from his body and at the same time reduces his inside shoulder to avoid contact from the free safety. It’s a nice release against two defenders aiming to slow him down.
I don’t think they do. If you freeze the frame at 0:38 in the video, you’ll see Coleman break inside the hash and have a solid yard of separation inside the corner. If the quarterback leads Coleman across the field, this target has a great chance of resulting in a touchdown. Instead, the quarterback throws the ball over Coleman’s right shoulder and forces an immediate adjustment from the receiver to straighten his break and veer back to the right hash.
Coleman’s adjustment is immediate, but it’s still too late for him to reach the pass. If he quarterback places the ball in the direction of the break, I have little doubt Coleman fails to reach it. One angle indicates the possibility of poor separation against two defenders, another reveals a nice route with a poor throw.
An element of Coleman’s game that requires immediate improvement is ball security. If there’s a takeaway from this Syracuse contest, it’s that Coleman’s long arms are both an asset and liability at this point in his career. This screen pass does a fine job of covering the spectrum of good and bad.
The play is a 12 personnel weak side twin set and Coleman is the outside receiver at the Rutgers 35. The beginning of the play is a good example of how Coleman uses is long arms to win the ball and beat an opponent. He turns to the quarterback, squares his body to the target, and leaps for the ball placed over his head. This target requires good arm extension from Coleman and he makes the catch with both hands.
He secures the ball to his body and turns outside the oncoming corner who is hoping to blow up the play behind the line of scrimmage. Coleman squares the defender and makes a good, quick turn, tucking the ball to his left side and uses his use his right arm to shove the defender away. This move leaves the defender flailing for air. Coleman’s height and strength should make this a common even in his game tape, but thus far I have seen less of it than I thought.
I also like who Coleman looks to the second defensive back inside the lead blocker in the flat. Coleman does a good job working outside and then stopping and turning inside to set up the lead block as they reach the line of scrimmage. But the next decision as a ball carrier is not as clear-cut good or bad. After gaining three yards to the inside, Coleman sees the safety flash over top five yards away and opts to change direction back to the outside behind his lead blocker.
I think for this play it was a bad decision and he should have continued up the flat towards the inside. He had room to squeeze ahead of the trailing defensive end untouched and then take on the safety. This decision probably gets him close to the first down marker.
Instead, Coleman works outside, the corner beats the block, and hits the receiver over top. At the same time, the corner Coleman left on the ground earlier in the play, regains his feet, chases the receiver and delivers a hit from behind.
Like many long-limb receivers, ball carriage can be loose at the elbow for Coleman and on this play his elbow is not tight enough to his body. The cornerback hitting Coleman over top punches it loose. Although Coleman is able to turn back and pounce on the ball, it’s an indication of deficient ball security natural to his body type.
Back to the ball carrying decision in the open field. While I thought it was a bad decision, it’s the type of hindsight analysis that is difficult use when judging the player’s vision. I understand why Coleman reacted to the safety flashing across the field and opted to use his lead block a second time.
At the same time, I see many college receivers try too hard to change direction and allow the pursuit to catch them. I’d rather see more commitment to the intended path and finish with the pads low. I think the best NFL receivers tend to commit down field and keep the momentum forward. Coleman has enough strength to work through glancing blows and run through arm tackles. I’d rather see him use his size to his advantage.
Overall, I see a receiver with similar physical skill sets and limited football environment as Demaryius Thomas and Calvin Johnson when they were at Georgia Tech. I still have more to watch before I can say where he compares along that spectrum of talent, but the stylistic comparisons are evident.
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