With the 2016 draft season underway, Sam Monson opens up his Analysis Notebook once again to share an in-depth evaluation of one top prospect each week. This week, we’ll explore the strengths, weaknesses and bottom-line scouting report for Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman.
The last two draft classes have been loaded at receiver, and plenty of those players have hit the ground running in the NFL. Last year I thought as many as eight WRs could or should go in the first round (in the end, six did), and though this class might not be as top heavy, there are still a lot of interesting players coming out.
The best receiver in this class is Baylor’s Corey Coleman, but I don’t think he is in the same category as Amari Cooper, Kevin White or even DeVante Parker from a year ago.
Coleman is clearly a first-round talent, even in the better receiver drafts of last year or the year before, and he has several traits that the other top receivers from this class just don’t possess. The question is: Does his production and upside outweigh his drawbacks?
What he does well
Coleman brings to the table an elite suddenness with his movement — a trait that other top prospects in this draft class don't possess. Hearing about fast-twitch receivers is common, and Coleman is that kind of player. He has the ability to make sudden moves that send defensive backs careening in the wrong direction and opening up huge amounts of space either before or after the catch.
He uses this sudden movement both in his route running to gain separation (and he separated at a greater rate than any other receiver in this class that PFF has charted), and after the catch to turn modest gains into huge plays.
Take a look at this slant route as an example:
This is not good play from the corner at any point, but just look at the difference in movement between the two players. Coleman snaps through his break to create separation and then stops on a dime and reverses field to the open space, making the corner miss and turning a routine completion into a touchdown. This is a player that scored 20 touchdowns this season, and who knows how many he would have ended up with had Baylor not been beaten up so badly at quarterback at the quarterback position. Not all of these scores were wide-open go routes against single coverage. Coleman is a receiver that knows how to beat his man to get into the end zone.
This play came in the same game. This time the corner he beat was Daryl Worley, himself a legit prospect with impressive tape and numbers. Coleman draws him in, makes him lunge and then breaks past him with quickness and is wide open in the end zone.
There are other players in this draft that can get open early, can win with quickness, and can separate from defensive backs, but none does it as regularly or as reliably as Coleman does.
To go along with that quick-twitch movement, Coleman has an incredible burst and acceleration off the line. Obviously being quick and fast in a straight line is a good thing for receivers generally, but in particular he eats up the cushion in coverage between himself and the defensive back like few other receivers in this class.
Why is that important? The longer a cornerback can stay in his backpedal the better he is able to react in any direction and play whatever route the receiver runs. Staying square to the line of scrimmage in the pedal means that he can react to the inside or outside and match the receiver’s route. If the receiver can close the gap between the two players quickly and force him out of his pedal early because of his speed, he effectively makes the cornerback choose which side to defend and turn towards. The side that the corner turns away from is effectively closed off to him because he has no chance of reacting as quickly to that side and defending any route from the receiver into it.
Any wideout that can force a corner to come out of his pedal sooner than he wants to can use that to set up routes and break back to the side the corner has just turned away from, effectively adding an extra move or fake to his routes just with his release. Coleman has this kind of quickness, whereas most of the other top receiver prospects do not.
What he struggles with
Coleman comes out of the Baylor offense, which is one of the more extreme spread systems in the college landscape. It’s tough to evaluate receivers (and anybody else) coming out of that system because they limit what they ask of their players, leaving a ton of projection when it comes to the next level.
Coleman had 116 targets last season, and 76 of them were on either go routes or hitches. That’s two routes accounting for 65.5 percent of his targets, and neither one of them is particularly complex from a route-running standpoint. If you throw in slants and receiver screens you get another 27 targets, leaving only 13 targets that came on routes other than those four. He only played in 12 games, so you’re talking about one target per game that came on a route other than the four he usually runs.
There is a huge amount of projection in terms of figuring out if Coleman can run the full route tree at the next level. PFF has 21 distinct routes for wide receivers in our system and even the most basic of route trees have 11. Even in the big-print, entry-level version he doesn’t run two-thirds of the route tree, and one can only imagine how complex some of them are within NFL organizations.
That negative isn’t necessarily his fault, but it is a big question mark teams need to place a value on.
Coleman's first flaw on tape is a frustrating tendency for inconsistent hands, i.e. dropped passes. Drops are objectively bad, but they can say a few different things about the receiver. Is he simply dropping passes because he has bad hands and struggles to catch the ball? Does he actually have good hands but a habit of losing concentration (Brandon Marshall), or is he just inconsistent with his catching? I think Coleman is the last of those groups. He doesn’t have outright bad hands. Looking through his tape shows him naturally catching the ball without thinking about it and bringing in some tough catches. I don’t think that all of the drops are concentration either though, and I don’t think his hands are as good as a player like Brandon Marshall, who makes spectacular grabs that few receivers can make in between poor concentration drops.
Coleman’s issues are somewhere in between. His hands are good enough, but he does have concentration lapses at times and whatever way you slice it, puts too many balls on the ground.
In all, Coleman had 10 drops this season and seven the year before. Those are pretty big numbers and give him a drop rate over the two years of 11.0 percent of catchable passes dropped. That’s actually worse than Jordan Matthews in the NFL this past season, whose drops drove Philadelphia Eagles fans crazy, and exactly the same as Brandon Marshall’s career drop rate. Looking at only this draft class it’s bad enough to rank 90th among all eligible receivers — 4 percent worse than somebody like Josh Doctson, so it’s a legitimate concern. A player like Brandon Marshall makes a lot of big plays to offset his drops — will Coleman be able to do the same?
Here’s a good example from that same West Virginia game we looked at earlier. Coleman runs a simple slant, is wide open, and drops an easy pass that should have gone for a big gain. Right now it looks like you are going to have to live with a certain number of drops in his game, which only underlines the potential upside he needs to achieve to outweigh these negatives.
Coleman also waits for the ball to come to him too often, rather than attacking it and minimizing the chance a defensive back can break it up — another potential flaw in his game. While a player can get away with that in the Big-12 where defending is often optional, NFL cornerbacks will be close enough to make a play on any pass that isn’t picture perfect. Players like Odell Beckham Jr. will go up and get the ball if it is anything less than on the money, preventing the DB from getting in on it, but right now Coleman looks too comfortable with allowing them to try, and that’s something likely to become a bigger issue at the next level than it was in college.
The bottom line
It says something about this class of receivers that the best of the group is this much of a work in progress. Coleman comes out of an offense that makes so much of his NFL potential a pure projection, and yet strangely, I have almost no concerns about his route-running ability. Though he didn’t run many routes in college, he ran the ones he did with sophistication and understanding of how to set up defensive backs and get open. I think the chances of those traits being limited strictly to the four routes that Baylor runs is very small. It may take a bit of adjustment, but I expect Coleman to become a good NFL route runner capable of running the entire route tree.
He has elite quickness, burst and acceleration and is a big play waiting to happen in a way most of the other receivers in this class are not. This high-end athleticism and acceleration makes him dangerous before the catch and with the ball in his hands, and his run-after-the-catch ability is very underrated. Taller than many were expecting at 5-foot-11 and almost 200-pounds, he is not an insignificant threat with the ball in his hands.
If it wasn’t for his frustrating drops, he would be even higher in my estimation, but between those and being a little too passive when the ball is in the air, there are flaws to his game.