I've watched film of hundreds (thousands at this point?) of college athletes over the years. Many have impressed me. Many others haven't. However, few have left me as torn as Corey Coleman. Coleman is a solid athlete, and the film record shows that he is one of the quicker players in college football. He's generating touchdowns at a record pace this season, and is considered by many to be one of the top college players this year. At the same time, there are some minor holes in his game. These holes are coachable, however, and should not present a huge issue at the NFL level. While some analysts will pin Coleman as a surefire #1 WR in the NFL, things are a bit more complex than that. Here's how I view Coleman as a prospect.
First, Coleman is a threat to produce big plays every time he touches the football. Through the first 6 weeks of the 2015 season, Coleman scored 16 touchdowns. He's an elusive player at the college level, and his highlights show that (for example, here). He's also a capable kick returner, which will add to his value at the next level. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of Indianapolis Colts wide receiver TY Hilton (similar size, similar speed, similar abilities), and I feel like a Hilton-type comparison is Coleman's upside in the NFL. Corey Coleman has the physical gifts to emerge as a #1 WR at the NFL level, but he's not necessarily a sure thing. Some analysts will say that Coleman is a product of the Baylor system, but that system has also produced Kendall Wright, Terrance Williams, and Josh Gordon, so that's not necessarily a bad thing.
This is where I see some holes in Coleman as a prospect. When you watch his performance through entire games, he has a tendency to make a ton of big plays, but is occasionally sloppy. (See game tape here, here, and here for example. I don't see a lot of big negatives, but there are a few areas where Coleman needs to grow more consistent to succeed at the next level. First, Coleman occasionally lets balls get past his hands and body-catches them rather than securing them solely with his hands. That's not necessarily a bad thing if it's not a regular thing, but it's something to watch at the next level, where fundamentals are extremely important. Second, Coleman has a tendency to take plays off here and there, especially on running plays. Rather than throw a block on a designed run, Coleman will often instead stand or walk around, effectively taking himself out as a factor on the play. While that doesn't take a way from his ability as a WR, I'd like to see a guy that's able to block consistently at the net level. Third, Coleman often moves back and forth laterally a lot rather than turning upfield. That works for him in college, but against NFL-caliber competition, Coleman will have to focus more on cutting upfield and less on moving laterally to make guys miss in the NFL. Elusiveness is good, but Coleman is a fast player who needs to trust his speed more.
While NFL scouts will knock Coleman for his height (he's 5'10 or 5'11 depending on who's measuring or reporting), that's not necessarily a valid criticism at this point. Smaller receivers are becoming common in the NFL, and some (like TY Hilton) have been very successful. At this point, I don't trust size as a way to judge a player's potential future utilization. Players, especially a player like Coleman, who has scored extremely regularly in college, deserve to be evaluated based on their onfield performance instead of on their size.
Here's how I view Coleman as a prospect. Coleman's upside is a TY Hilton-type player. A fast, elusive guy that's going to have some dominant weeks and some weeks where he's a non-factor in the NFL (some teams will be able to effectively game-plan against him). His downside is a Tavon Austin/Cordarrelle Patterson type of player. Tons of physical talent, and lots of upside, but Coleman is still relatively raw as a player. I'm looking at a player who is one of the best players in college right now and I'm calling him raw. That intrigues me. The potential is there for Coleman to be a special player. If teams allow him to develop as a slot WR, I think they could be onto something big. However, if they try to force him to do too much, he could struggle. He's a risky pick early in the first round, but near the end of the first round and early in the 2nd, the upside is there for Coleman to be a steal.
The final piece of the puzzle with Coleman is character. He never seems to be a problem on the field. I can think of one instance where his behavior stood out as anything other than traditional on the field. He once attempted to high-five a referee after a big play. The referee didn't return the high five, and Coleman still smiled after it. That looks like nothing more than a young man having fun on the field. Coleman also comes from a tough family background (for a great article on him from ESPN, click here). His mom raised him and his siblings largely on his own, and he moved around through tough areas as a child. His father is currently in prison, and Coleman is working to develop a relationship with him. Coleman also looks up to his mom, who worked two jobs to support herself and her children. Coleman's past experiences, combined with the fact that he seems to have developed into a hard-working young man with a strong positive character (the kid is one of the top players in college football, and the only knock people can find on him is that he showed up without a shirt in front of the media, which happens regularly in the NFL), suggest that Coleman will not likely cause problems for a franchise in the NFL. In fact, he has the background to potentially be a locker room leader.
At the end of the day, I think Coleman will be a great player in the right system. In the wrong NFL system, he'll likely be labeled a bust and will struggle. His upside is largely dependent on the offensive system he is drafted into, but in a system that caters to his strengths (and pushes him to give full effort on every play), Coleman could be a steal late in the first round of the draft. If nothing else, his big play ability is clear, and at worst he'll be a capable kick returner at the NFL level. He's one of the most intriguing prospects in college, and I'm excited to watch his career develop.
I'll end this profile with one caveat. On film, Coleman has been noticed walking through routes more than once. I've noticed it, other analysts have as well. I think that goes along with his tendency to not block on running plays. While it might be a fundamental lack of effort on Coleman's part, that practice seems to be common-place at Baylor; Baylor's WRs as a whole seem to back off entirely when they're not a key part of a play. If this is, in fact, purely a lack of effort on Coleman's part, then that is something that needs to be addressed and could bump him down into the 3rd or 4th round. NFL scouts need to know that he is going to put in full effort on every play. If it's a Baylor system thing where the coaches accept it (or worse yet encourage it), then it's an easier fix. Scouts will have to do some work there before placing a final draft value on him. The seeming lack of effort on certain plays is my biggest problem with him as a prospect, but with coaching, that can be overcome.
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