3 Things You Need to Know About Saints Wide Receiver Brandon Coleman
In one year, wide receiver Brandon Coleman has gone from undrafted rookie free agent to the New Orleans Saints' camp MVP.
When head coach Sean Payton was asked who impressed him the most in training camp, he singled out former practice squad member Coleman.
Undrafted due to concerns about the torn meniscus in his right knee that he suffered at Rutgers prior to the 2013 season, Coleman is now turning heads and drawing rave reviews by everyone who has seen him practice this offseason. Poised to prove that he belongs in the same company as the other wideouts in arguably one of the best rookie wide receiver draft classes of all time, here are three things you need to know about the Saints' second-year wideout:
1. He's Built For the Big Play
To say Brandon Coleman is a big receiver is an understatement. Standing at a towering 6' 6" and 225 pounds, Coleman is built from the same mold as big playmaking wideouts Plaxico Burress (6' 5", 232 pounds) and Calvin Johnson (6'5", 237 pounds).
Similar to these larger receivers, Coleman knows how to use his size to his advantage to win against undersized corners. During his three-year career at Rutgers, Coleman averaged a touchdown once every 4.7 catches and had a 19.2 yards per reception average. To put this into perspective, his draftmate Mike Evans averaged a touchdown once every 8.9 receptions during his two-year collegiate career at Texas A&M.
However, with just 94 receptions in his three seasons at Rutgers and the fact that not once did he ever top 800 receiving yards in a single season (his career high was a 718-yard season his sophomore year), Coleman might be less like the Bucs' talented second-year man and more like the Steelers' Martavis Bryant, another big play, raw talent who had just 61 receptions over his three years at Clemson.
2. He's the Saints' Third Wide Receiver
Recent reports suggest that Coleman has locked up the number-three wideout job in New Orleans.
So, historically, how productive has this role in the Saints offense been?
Over the last three years, on average, 383 of Drew Brees' 660 passes per season have gone to his top three wide receivers and his tight end. Breaking this down by position, 134 of these targets have gone to the team's TE1 (Graham), 114 to the WR1, 80 to the WR2, and 55 to the WR3.
And while one might expect Coleman to come in and receive those 55 targets the team's third wide receiver has averaged the past three years, there's reason to believe he could receive far more in 2015.
With the trades of Kenny Stills to Miami and Jimmy Graham to Seattle, the 200 combined targets these two receivers have averaged in the last two years is up for grabs. Given the fact that a true heir to Graham's targets at tight end has yet to emerge, there's a good chance that many of these targets may slide over to the 6' 6" Coleman. In addition, with the aging Colston's continued physical decline and his decrease in targets in each of the past three seasons (130 in 2012, 111 in 2013, and 100 in 2014), this also gives Coleman an opportunity to command a larger piece of the passing game pie.
Last season, number-three receiver Kenny Stills -- who, in a similar role to the one Coleman will be playing next year, took snaps alongside Colston, Brandin Cooks, and the now-departed Graham -- put up 63 receptions for 931 yards and 3 touchdowns on 83 targets.
3. He Plays with Drew Brees
Okay, I'll admit that this one is pretty obvious. But still, the benefits of playing with the future Hall of Fame quarterback cannot be understated.
Drew Brees is one of the highest volume passers in the game, with his 670, 650, and 659 pass attempts in each of the past three seasons ranking him second, fourth, and second in the league in this category, respectively.
And as one of the best in the game, despite this incredible volume, Brees has been able to maintain his high level of efficiency on all his throws. Connecting on 66.9% of all his passes over the past three seasons, this figure would have been the fourth-best mark among all quarterbacks last season, just ahead of Philip Rivers, Ryan Tannehill, and Peyton Manning.
All this has led to fantastic production out of his receivers. Over the last three years, his top four targets in each season as a whole have averaged 13.5 yards per reception. Beyond this, when we consider all wide receivers playing with Brees over this timespan, this entire group has averaged an amazing 0.85 Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target.
For those unfamiliar with our signature metric NEP, it's our in-house statistic to measure a player's contributions to his team's chances of scoring relative to expectation. If a player makes a play that helps his team's chances of scoring above expectation, he receives a positive mark. If he does something that detracts from these chances, he receives a negative score.
So from this we see that Brees' receivers were adding solid production on every single catch. To reiterate how truly impressive this is, this figure last season would have been the 12th-best mark among all receivers with at least 50 targets, right ahead of Antonio Brown (0.84), T.Y. Hilton (0.83), and the Calvin Johnson (0.82).
While all this already bodes very nicely for Coleman's chances at productivity in 2015, it also helps that Brees knows exactly how to use his big receivers.
Between 2012-2014, Brees targeted his 6' 7" tight end in Jimmy Graham 62 times and converted 43.5% (27) of these into touchdowns. Now, with Graham a Seahawk and as one of this team's biggest receivers, Coleman is a logical candidate to slide right into this red zone role and put up some nice scoring numbers this year.
From all this it's obvious that Coleman finds himself in a position to put up some nice numbers as a cog in the Saints passing game this year. At worst, he could become the team's red zone threat that they lost when Graham was traded to Seahawks.
With the targets he may be able to command given his size, the loss of Graham and Stills this offseason, and the continued decline of Colston, as someone currently being undrafted in fantasy football leagues this season, Coleman could easily emerge as a bargain WR3.