Will Sammie Coates Impact the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015?
Following the NFL Combine back in February, Auburn's Sammie Coates placed himself into a very intriguing category: a freakish athlete who lacked elite-type production in college. Much like fellow SEC wide receiver Chris Conley, the disparity between Coates's raw statistics and his raw athleticism was difficult to comprehend.
In his 38 career games in the SEC, Coates totaled 13 touchdowns on just 64 career receptions. While that results in a very impressive touchdown per reception ratio, the lack of receptions is somewhat concerning. For comparison, Alabama's Amari Cooper topped Coates's career totals in his junior season (124 catches and 16 touchdowns).
It's unfair to compare Coates to Cooper directly, with the latter clearly being the more polished and NFL-ready prospect. It's also unfair to compare both players due to the offensive systems in which they played in.
For example, in 2014, 64.6% of Auburn's total offensive snaps were called run plays, obviously limiting the amount of opportunity and targets available for the wide receivers. In comparison, Alabama ran on 55.7% of their total offensive snaps.
It's impossible to know for sure how Coates would have performed in a high-volume passing offense, but what we do know for sure is that he is extremely athletic. In fact, Coates's combine performance ranks near the top of all the pass-catchers in the 2015 draft class.
Measuring in at 6'1", 212 pounds, Coates was extremely impressive in the agility and explosion portions of the drills, both areas that normally translate well into the NFL.
However, Lance Zierlein of NFL.com described Coates as "a vertical receiver without vertical feel" but did note that his over-the-top threat was outstanding. Zierlein compared him to new teammate Martavis Bryant.
Pro Football Focus noted that although he is one of the most gifted receivers in the class, he struggled with concentration and drops. The bright spot is that his 488 yards on passes traveling 20 or more yards in the air ranked seventh in the class, according to PFF.
Calling Pittsburgh Home
Now as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Coates joins a team with an established quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) and a true number-one wide receiver (Antonio Brown), both of which should go a long way in his development at the next level.
He is also entering one of the most efficient aerial assaults based on last season's performance. Pittsburgh finished with the fourth best Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play last season. NEP quantifies a player or team's production and compares it to league expectation. When adjusted for schedule, the Steelers added 0.20 points per drop back to their expected outcome.
With Brown occupying a large amount of the team's target share and the Steelers' coaching staff likely to give Martavis Bryant more opportunity in 2015, Coates should be under no pressure to play a large volume of snaps in his rookie season, assuming Markus Wheaton does not continue to underwhelm or simply fall out of favor with the coaches. Behind Wheaton, there isn’t much on the current depth chart standing in the way of Coates and legitimate playing time in Pittsburgh's base three-receiver sets.
What the Future Holds
Coates' weaknesses are well known: questionable hands, limited route tree knowledge, and a lack of college production.
But his strengths are equally persuasive: size, speed, and strength
If Coates dedicates himself to becoming a better route runner as well as a more confident and reliable pass-catcher, he is in a situation with loads of potential. Spending time in the film room and on the practice field with a proven veteran quarterback like Roethlisberger on a week-to-week basis is exactly what a young, somewhat raw incoming rookie needs to be successful.
Pittsburgh obviously felt that the upside was worth a third-round selection, and it's safe to assume they will bring Coates along in a similar fashion as they did with Bryant last season. We may not see much of him early on in 2015, but his natural talent, and lack of competition on the depth chart, may allow Coates to make some noise before season's end.