Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio shares its NFL Draft scouting report of new Buffalo Bills receiver Corey Coleman.
Corey Coleman, Baylor (5-11, 194)
Coleman is the most exciting receiver in the class and arguably the most scintillating big-play threat of any position in the draft. You don’t need an NFL Combine or Pro Day workout to understand that on any given play, Coleman is two moves away from flipping the field for his offense. He’s a more rugged player than DeSean Jackson, but his short-area quickness and agility are along the same continuum as the former Cal star.
Coleman has NFL deep speed. He can beat a lot of cornerbacks running in a straight line. More impressive is his acceleration to top speed and the burst in his change of direction. Coleman combines all three traits and uses them as his bully pulpit as a route runner.
If you’ve ever watched a wildlife show then you’ve probably made connections between football and predator-prey interactions. Although not completely true that cheetahs only attack prey that runs, it’s common for wildlife to freeze upon first sensing a predator in the area. I have to imagine that when an opposing corner encounters Coleman for the first time on the field there is an instinctive reaction to his speed and it’s one of feeling frozen—even if it’s not the right feeling to have.
Coleman plays this to the hilt. His stems have a fast get-off and pace that puts opposing defenders on notice, often baiting them to turn and run immediately as an overreaction to that fear of getting eaten alive by the receiver’s pace. Because Coleman is good at selling the vertical route with his eyes and baiting defenders at the top of his stem with head fakes, he’s a difficult receiver to cover despite a route tree that is more limited than other top receivers.
All of this is enforced with a strong game at the line of scrimmage. Coleman has an effective chop based on a three- or four-step release pattern. His feet are so quick that he can even bait defenders without using his hands. Even a shoulder dip has added effectiveness with Coleman’s quicks.
When a defender challenges Coleman at the line, he has an effective hook and a swim move. One of the coolest things I’ve seen from Coleman is the way he’ll execute a three-step release before the swim move and then dip the shoulder after it. It’s like watching an elaborate setup for a crossover dribble. Coleman is so quick at executing these moves that he’s often stacking the defender—forcing the opponent to chase his hind parts with no legal way of getting around them—within the first 5-7 yards of the route.
Coleman struggles against a patient, physical cornerback—which he’ll see far more of in the NFL. Defenders willing to wait out Coleman’s fakery without biting on movement can successfully disrupt Coleman with a punch and continued physical play. When Coleman gets the fight taken to him early in a route, his concentration and route precision deteriorate. Coleman will have to become a student of the game and study cornerback tendencies so he can prepare for aggressive, physical cornerbacks.
Once past the line, Coleman is skilled at varying the pace of his routes. He’ll do this as an occasional change-up—hoping to trick a defender who has gotten complacent with whatever pace Coleman has established earlier in the game.
Although Coleman does a lot to test the readiness of his opponents, he suffers lapses of intensity as a route runner. There are plays where Coleman gets lazy with his stems and breaks, rounding them off in a manner that tips off the defender and gives the opponent an opening to attack the ball from a trail position.
Coleman is already good at transitioning from stem to breaks with a minimal number of steps. When he can consistently limit that transition to one step and bend at the hips into the change of direction he’ll be unconverable on underneath routes. An opponent will have to do his homework to find small tells to stop Coleman on hooks, curls, hitches, and comebacks. If he’s wrong, Coleman will be tracking down a bomb for six.
Although the depth of his stems and turns can get lazy, Coleman is not a low-effort player. The receiver is good at working back to his passer if the initial route doesn’t break open. When it does, Coleman is conscientious about breaking back to the football. Like many deep threats who rely more on speed than physicality, Coleman has a bad habit of using a passive catch technique on targets at his waist and higher up his torso. This happens on deeper routes where he doesn’t display enough confidence to extend his arms and attack. These underhand, bucket catches allow defenders in tight coverage to make plays on the ball.
Coleman’s passive catch tendencies also crop up on underneath routes when he tries to trap throws targeting his waist. He has dropped more than a few passes while trying to trap targets of this kind. It’s also no surprise that a player with his athletic prowess has lapses of concentration where he doesn’t look the ball into his hands before he glances downfield—and drops the ball.
Another symptom of hand position problems in Coleman’s game is that he’ll leap unnecessarily for targets that are over his head but catchable with greater arm extension. This slows his transition from receiver to runner. As quick as Coleman is, anything that limits his acceleration time is a boon for defenders.
Despite these issues, Coleman has a good catch radius. He makes plays on targets thrown away from his frame that require full extension—high or low. If and when Coleman becomes a stickler for using proper hand position with every target and remains focused on the finer details of catching the football he can raise the consistency of his game to a Pro Bowl tier.
Another area of inconsistency is Coleman’s work against contact at the catch point. Although he displayed enough inconsistency to earn a “no” on the RSP checklist, Coleman displays some skill to catch the ball and take a rap to his back. The breaking point for Coleman comes when a hit is hard enough to jar the receiver’s body opposite of his momentum. These are the passes he drops most often.
Coleman is often at his most dangerous after the catch. Unlike many receivers, who lean too hard on their speed and quickness, Coleman is a smart decision-maker in the open field. He’s good at getting downhill and splitting defenders to maximize yardage rather than reversing his field, hunting for a big play, and losing yards. There’s always a chance that a player with Coleman’s quicks will try too hard for the big shot early in his NFL career but if he sticks to the smart decisions that got him to this point, he’ll be fine.
Once in the open field, he’s adept at layering moves to eliminate a defender’s initially strong angle. He also knows how to press a crease when working behind blockers. When defenders get close, Coleman displays a functional straight-arm to keep them at bay.
The one unusual skill in Coleman’s arsenal is the ability to make multiple short area moves before he gets downhill. Few ballcarriers can get away with this type of movement without getting dropped early in the run. Coleman, like DeSean Jackson, will be encouraged to continue using these moves within reason.
His strong lateral agility, fast pace, skill for setting up cutbacks, and peripheral vision helps him shed contact and avoid angles of pursuit. These skills also make him capable of doing limited work as a running back.
It doesn’t make him an ideal RB, but he can do some work as a spread runner and hybrid option in some offenses that want to use him in this way for 4-6 plays a game, ala Percy Harvin or Danny Woodhead. Although a patient runner, he’s not a powerful one. A good hit and wrap will stop Coleman in his tracks. He can get pulled backwards frequently, and he doesn’t bounce off square shots to his body.
One of the greater myths about Coleman is his effort as a blocker. He didn’t block on every play at Baylor because the coaches ordered receivers to conserve their energy. Baylor runs a high-tempo offense and they do not want their receivers blocking on run plays were the ball is going to the opposite side of the field.
When it was time for Coleman to block, he’s skilled. He can earn position, extend his arms, drive with his legs, and adjust his position to the appropriate shoulder of the opponent to turn the defender away from the path of the ballcarrier. He does a patient job of stalking his opponents in the open field and sets up attack angles.
If he has an opportunity to attack a defender early, he’s aggressive, physical, and relentless. The one major flaw in his attack is his punch; he leaves his feet too often when delivering his strike. If he doesn’t knock the opponent to the ground with one punch, he loses leverage.
Coleman should become a productive perimeter player immediately. If he can refine his routes and make more plays in contested situations, he could blossom into a primary option with Antonio Brown’s type of upside. It’s up to how much Coleman wants to become a student of defenses and a craftsman at the techniques of his position.
Pre-NFL Draft Fantasy Advice: Coleman and Treadwell are probably easier fits than Doctson because their uses are more obvious and the returns more immediate. Even if I think Doctson is the better all-around receiver, I would have no problem taking Coleman over Doctson on the basis that Coleman’s big-play ability is more versatile and easier for an offense to exploit from the jump.