Coates is a great athlete, but a raw receiver. Two plays reveal where he struggles, but why there’s good reason for optimism for his professional development.
FoxSports reporter Bruce Feldman has Sammie Coates as his “freak dela creme” on his annual list of great college football athletes. If you choose to click on the link, you’ll see the .gif of Coates’ stiff arm to end all stiff arms. It’s a fun highlight that illustrates where Coates wins most often: As a space player who can turn a short reception into a big play.
But what are the upper limits of Coates’ skills as a receiver? Does he show any promise as a potential primary option in an NFL offense?
A series I started last spring at this blog is The Boiler Room. One of the challenges involved with player analysis is to be succinct with delivering the goods. As the author of an annual tome, I’m often a spectacular failure in this respect.
Even so, I will study a prospect and see a play unfold that does a great job of encapsulating that player’s skills. When I witness these moments, I try to imagine if I would include this play as part of a cut-up of highlights for a draft show at a major network or an NFL organization if I was working for a personnel director. Unlike the No-Huddle Series, The Boiler Room is often focused on prospects I expect to be drafted, and often before the fourth round.
Here are two plays that would be important additions to Coates’ draft portfolio. One displays where Coates has difficulty as a vertical receiver. The other is an example of Coates’ upside.
Problematic Tracking of Vertical Targets
There were three targets in this game where Coates appeared to have trouble tracking pass and it resulted in last-second adjustments with his back to the quarterback. This route up the left sideline late in the first half begins with Coates facing a corner seven yards off the line of scrimmage and the safety on Coates’ dropping 12 yards deep prior to the snap.
Coates releases off the line with intensity and heads straight for the cornerback. This is a good sale of a release that doesn’t tip-off the side Coates will take as he approaches the opponent. When Coates dips outside he doesn’t use his hands to address the corner playing shallow zone. Even so, the Auburn receiver earns a free release and his speed is good enough to earn a step on the safety at the 35.
Players with Coates’ purported speed (4.2-4.3 if you estimate that the hand-timed 4.14 and 4.16 marks are collegiate tall tales) are the type of rarities who can sometimes win the NFL vertical game without refined release techniques. But one requirement of every receiver is the skill to track the ball.
This pass arrives over Coates’ outside shoulder at the 50 and the receiver seems to lose track of the target. The receiver’s pacing, and last-second adjustment doesn’t appear as if he’s trying to deceive the coverage — Coates is not only ahead of the safety, but he has his back to the coverage.
When the ball arrives, Coates’ hand-eye coordination with the target seems off. The result is Coates’ attempting to hug the ball like a long-lost relative rather than making the play with his fingers. The ball rebounds from Coates’ chest, incomplete.
It’s possible the angle of the sun was a consistent problem in this game and Coates’ issues tracking the ball were an isolated incident of a single game. I’ve found that the “isolated case” as explanation for poor performance in a game is a rarity, but one still has to remain open-minded to the possibility.
If Coates’ issues tracking the ball with his back to the quarterback is consistent problem, it puts a major dent in his upside. It’s difficult to expect a player to get better at multitasking at top speed while negotiating a defender.
Flashes of Toughness, Athleticism Over the Middle
Despite a potential flaw as a vertical threat, ask Coates to face his quarterback and make a play on the ball and he has an easier time integrating his physical gifts. This 2nd and 7 early in the third quarter is a skinny post where the Auburn quarterback throws the ball behind his receiver.
Coates manages to twist his body to grab the target thrown behind him while he’s airborne. Coates catches the ball with his hands while in this awkward position and the hit in the back from the defensive back doesn’t foil the attempt.
This is one of the more difficult catches after contact that you’ll see in a college football game. If I had to choose which of these two plays I’d prefer to see a positive and negative outcome, I’d keep them as is. The deep passing game is a lower percentage part of offensive football. I’d much prefer a receiver willing to negotiate contact and make plays with over the middle — especially one with enough speed that a missed tackle can be a deadly for the defense.
Coates is a raw receiver, but when a raw athlete shows he can use his athleticism to win the ball and the toughness to maintain possession it’s a good sign that he has the potential to develop into a worthwhile professional.
For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2014 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2014 RSPs at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.
The 2015 RSP will be available for pre-order in January.