2015 NFL Draft Preview: Sammie Coates, Passion Over Perfection

Sammie Coates is a rare blend of size, speed and explosion (photo by USA Today.)

Sammie Coates is an athletic freak with an insane combo of size, speed, strength and explosion.

Position: WR
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 212lbs
Arm length: 33 3/8 inches
Hand size: 9 3/8 inches
 
Combine Results
40-yard dash: 4.43 seconds (11th)
Bench press 225 lbs: 23 repetitions (1st)
Vertical jump: 41 inches (4th)
Broad jump: 10 feet 11 inches (3rd)
3-cone drill: 6.98 seconds (15th)
20-yard shuffle: 4.06 seconds (2nd)
If you have watched Coates play, his size/speed combination, strength and explosion definitely show up on the game tape. In this article, I will talk about the good, bad, and the upside with Coates. You probably expected me to say ugly there. But what’s ugly about a 6″1″ 212 pound man who glides like a gazelle on the football field? I understand many scouts’ concerns about his reliability as a pass catcher and his seemingly lack of concentration, and agree for the most part that its an area of concern. However, Coates is a much more complete receiver. The popular comparison these days is Minnesota Vikings receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. I think this is a bit of recency bias and I see the similarities in terms of game tape and tremendous athletic upside, but where I believe they differ is on the inside. I don’t have the luxury of knowing them personally so I have to rely on interviews, coaches reports, and their off-the-field endeavors. I am a firm believer that you get out what you put in. No matter the goal!
ON THE FIELD
Coates played in 38 career games at the University of Auburn compared to Cordarrelle Patterson’s 12 at the University of Tennessee. This is a huge difference in experience. Many believe the SEC is the closest to the NFL in terms of competition and having numerous “pro-ready” players. I happen to agree with that sentiment. Coates clearly established himself as Auburn’s no. 1 wide receiver, while many scouts didn’t even consider Patterson to be the best player on his team. Many believed that endorsement belonged to Justin Hunter. Both players are raw. Coates is raw in that his routes are unpolished and he is a high-emotion player. He tends to hang onto mistakes and get down on himself. This “raw” term doesn’t mean inexperienced as it does in Cordarrelle’s case. Patterson didn’t play football in 2009 where he sat out while attending North Carolina Tech Christian Academy. He transferred to Hutchinson Community College in Hutchinson, Kan., where he played two years at the National Junior College level where he was an All-American JUCO 2010 and 2011. He then received an athletic scholarship to play football at Tennessee where he only played in 12 games. This is where we begin to separate the wheat from the tare. Coates has a full two years of college football experience on Patterson. That is valuable time for a wide receiver who relies on his pure athleticism instead of precision. Coates was afforded the luxury of red-shirting in 2011 during Auburn’s National Championship run.
Where I do see similarities is they are both electric with the ball in their hands and are as physical as they come with the ball in their hands. Both are big, strong and can fly. They are a threat to score from anywhere on the field anytime the ball is in their hands. After that it’s night and day. Coates can climb the ladder and go get the ball. That is something I can’t remember Patterson doing or being asked to do for that matter. Let’s look at the “tale of the tape” for Sammie Coates:
  • Explosive big play specialist who can keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night.
  • Was at his best in the teams biggest games.
  • Consistently and effortlessly creates separation, even against double coverage.
  • Can take over a game at a moment’s notice.
  • Wins the 50/50 above the rim with his explosive leaping ability.
  • Creates plays after the catch and has a physical running style with the speed to outrun the defense.
  • Explosive off the line and can beat physical corners in bump and run coverage.
  • Catches corners on their heels and blows by them when they play off the line.
  • Dynamic in the screen game as well as play action.
  • Fluid athlete getting in and out of his breaks effortlessly, has a nasty stop and go and does a good job of selling this route.
  • Snags the bullet pass out of flight.
  • Improved on the 9 route in 2014, catching 10 out of 11 catchable balls of 20 yards or more.
  • Plays the game with a child like passion.
  • A physical and willing blocker who initiates contact with a head hunter’s mentality.
  • Reported to be the first guy at practice and the last one to leave. Stayed over daily to run routes with WR coach.
  • Needs to improve on the entire route tree.
  • Needs to let bad plays go. He has a tough time moving on.
  • Questionable hands.
As you can see, there is plenty to love and plenty to worry about. Patterson was not a willing blocker and he has a questionable work ethic. As a matter of fact, Patterson himself said after his rookie campaign.
“Last year, coming in as a rookie, you really don’t know what to expect. I don’t think my work ethic was good enough last year,” Patterson said. “This year my whole mindset is remember everything, do better than you did last year.”
“It’s totally different from last year,” Patterson continued. “It’s going to be tough, but us guys we’re going to work together. We’re going to be with each other, get here early in the morning and leave late after practice.”
As anyone who watched Patterson in 2014 would say: “he didn’t change! If anything he regressed”

Veteran receiver Greg Jennings said the transition to the NFL made his head spin, when speaking of his young teammate Patterson.

That’s where the “six degrees of separation” comes into effect. The short fuse on his stick of dynamite has been lit. Nobody has ever questioned Coates’ work ethic. He’s a very personable guy who only wants to get better. He said his motivation is to “prove his doubters wrong.” I love a fiery competitor who plays with a chip on his shoulder to get better, and has something to prove. When asked to tell the 32 NFL teams why he should be a first round pick, he said, “because I’m a play maker and can get the job done. And I’m VERY COACHABLE.”

That’s it! He has a willingness to get better and put the time in to become a more complete receiver. He has all the tools physically and you apply that to his mentality, you get Demaryius Thomas, who was pegged as a similar work in progress. He, too, was on a run-first team at Georgia Tech. Thomas went to the next level once he was paired with Peyton Manning. I would love to see Coates end up with a veteran QB like Manning or Brady. (After all he did have Nick Marshall throwing him the ball. Marshall isn’t even being drafted as a quarterback. That has to be considered. It was evident that Coates didn’t trust Marshall’s arm on the deep ball as he usually slowed at the end of his route anticipating an under thrown ball. Marshall could chuck it down the field at times, but he is far from an NFL caliber QB which is what Coates will have throwing to him this year. Coates had a 19 percent drop rate in 2014, which I agree is a staggering number. But consider this: Torrey Smith had an 18 percent drop rate in 2014 with the Mr. Bazooka Arm himself, Joe Flacco, who happens to be one of the best deep ball throwers in our era. Nick Marshall is no Joe Flacco! He is an amazing athlete who provided Auburn with a dual threat not a pocket passer. We have seen the difference a quarterback can make. Take Desean Jackson for instance. Like Sammie Coates, he had a 19 percent drop rate in 2010 with Michael Vick under center. Compare that to his 5 percent drop rate once Nick Foles took the helm at QB. Another example is Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers. His drop rate was cut in half from 2010 with Jimmy Clausen to 2011 with Cam Newton. What does this mean? It means a wide receiver is married to whoever is throwing him the ball! Peyton Manning has boosted every receiver he has played with. Look no further than Emmanuel Sanders’ jump last season. He went from a wide receiver 3/4 in fantasy to the 7th best receiver in fantasy in just one year. The quarterback effects the wideouts production dramatically.)

Bill Belichick was the only NFL head coach to attend Auburn’s pro day, and was watching Coates very closely. The Patriots also sent Nick Caserio, the team’s director of player personnel. Belichick stuck fairly close to Coates during position drills and spoke to the wide receiver briefly. But true to form, the coach was tight-lipped on the substance of the conversation and declined interview requests. Now I’m obviously connecting the dots here, but it’s certainly feasible when you consider New England’s lack of an outside threat. And I seem to remember another Coates who played pretty well in New England, but his name was Ben.

Coates himself was a little more talkative after the encounter at his pro day.

“I jumped back and said, ‘Whoa, do you know who that was?’ ” Coates said of his reaction upon seeing Belichick. “It was good to have him out here to watch us perform. I was excited to meet him. He just told me, ‘Good job, keep working hard,’ and that’s all I needed. I didn’t need to hear too much more than that.”

Coates joked that he might track Belichick down again before he left.

“I’m thinking about going and asking to see the Super Bowl ring or something,” he said.

Coates is exactly the kind of player Belichick would love to have buy into his system. The Patriots were at their best when they had Randy Moss stretching the defenses. I don’t see New England selling the farm to move up to get a Devante Parker or Kevin White. So why not take a shot on a guy who presents just as much upside? I mean, they swung and missed with the likes of Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce.

CHARACTER

This is by far what sold me on Sammie Coates becoming an NFL star. As you can see here in Sammie’s Strength.  As Coates describes, he came out of the locker room and a little girl caught his eye. He approached the girl not knowing she was dying of leukemia. The little girl’s name is Kenzie Ray. He quickly formed a bond with the girl and has become one of her best friends. Kenzie became very ill and was taken to Children’s Hospital where she laid unconscious. Unbeknownst to Kenzie, Sammie stayed by her side the whole time. When she awoke she saw her best friend (Sammie.) Sammie still wears the “Praying for Kenzie” bracelet she gave him in the beginning. To me this shows an outstanding young man who has high character. It’s not everyday that a young man who is the big man on campus shows this type of compassion and the humility it takes to call a 12-year-old girl your hero. Sammie Coates is a great football player and an even greater person.

The conclusion is this: Sammie Coates is not your perfect wide receiver prospect. But he does possess all the tools to become one. I have exhibited his high character and his willingness to put in the work to become a great NFL receiver. Abraham Lincoln said it best, “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”  I would prefer to take a shot on a kid who has the tools and is unpolished, but driven to improve, versus a player who has the same tools, but lacks the drive and motivation to use them!

Dennis Dunbar

@LionsDenNFL on twitter and Co-Host of the Fakepigskin Angle of Pursuit Podcast

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