Year in and year out, NFL franchises across the league are suckered into high risk selections, hoping that their coaching staff will be the lucky ones to unlock the ability of a terrific athlete. In 2016, the Cleveland Browns fell into this trap with their targeting of wide receiver Corey Coleman. The team drafted the explosive and undersized pass catcher from Baylor University with the 15th overall selection.
Coleman was a mid-year Heisman front runner, thanks to six consecutive 100+ yard performances to start the season and a mind-boggling 20 receiving touchdowns in the team's first 8 games. But suddenly, the cupcakes disappeared on the schedule. Coleman was held out of the end-zone for the team's final 4 regular season games, 3 of which the previously undefeated Bears lost.
Coleman scratched out just one catch for eight yards against #7 ranked TCU, the definitive blow to any hope Coleman had at landing the biggest individual prize in football.
Coleman would go on to win the Biletnikoff Award, but miss the team's bowl game thanks to a sports hernia before declaring early for the NFL Draft.
Throughout the Draft process, Coleman would be compared to wide receivers such as Anquan Boldin, Phillip Dorsett, Emmanuel Sanders, Steve Smith and Antonio Brown. In hindsight, the only thing all of these players have in common is that they have nothing in common at all.
Production can have a nasty way of persuading the eyeballs of things that aren't truly there. In Coleman's specific case, limited route running and poor hands were masked by the plays that Coleman did make, so much so that the two vital pieces of playing receiver were overlooked.
Coleman, although undersized, became an athletic marvel after he jumped over 40 inches in the vertical and was clocked in at 4.37 in the 40-yard dash. And the risk involved with the idea of investing in him became more and more secondary.
Some of the notes from Coleman's 2016 NFL Draft evaluation:
- Runs an extremely limited tree...made up of go, slant, post, smoke and comebacks.
- Does not work to manipulate coverage.
- Will drop throws if hitting on the back shoulder.
- Struggles to reach behind frame to haul in throws testing catch radius.
- Not exposed to a high level of advanced WR play.
- Has taken advantage of spread system to stress secondary...needs to be mentally reconditioned for performance at the next level.
Needless to say, Coleman's efforts to transition smoothly have been in vain. He's been dogged by multiple broken hands, plus hamstring issues in each of his three seasons in the NFL (including this year's training camp).
With just 56 catches for 718 yards and 5 touchdowns through two years to his name, his bags are now packed for the move north. The Buffalo Bills, who are in dire straits with their own wide receiver group, have flipped a 2020 7th-round draft pick to Cleveland for Coleman.
It's a move that makes sense for Buffalo, given their big armed rookie passer and the low investment cost to take a chance on that athletic talent.
But may Coleman's story serve as the latest reminder that playing football is much, much more important than being an athlete.