Bypassing other potential needs, or ‘wants’, in the third round after securing their outside linebacker and cornerback in the first two rounds of the draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers chose to add depth to a strength position by drafting wide receiver Sammie Coates with the 87th overall pick.
Coates is, of course, the fourth wide receiver that the Steelers have drafted in the third round since 2009, having been preceded by Mike Wallace (2009), Emmanuel Sanders (2010), and Markus Wheaton (2013). Wallace and Sanders have each made it to a Pro Bowl. The team also added a wide receiver last year in the same vicinity, adding Martavis Bryant in the middle of the fourth round.
And I believe that there is some value to using Bryant as a reference point for Coates, even if it is not a completely apples to apples comparison. While they have similar speed, for example, Bryant has about two inches in height on Coates. Bryant is also a more natural high-pointer of the ball, which makes him a valued red zone target.
Bryant also came into the league with less playing experience and knowledge of the route tree, as well as the other finer points of the game. As a result, it took him six games sitting on the bench before he got the opportunity to play at all during his rookie season.
Coates has some limitations as a polished receiver as well, but he comes to the NFL with a greater body of collegiate experience, whereas Bryant only had one year of significant production.
Over the span of his last two seasons, Coates accumulated 76 receptions for 1643 yards and 11 touchdowns. He had a dip in production in his final season because he had very little to work with in a run-first offense with a converted defensive back under center, but that is not a reflection of his talent.
Overall, Coates and Bryant share many of the same strengths and weaknesses, to varying degrees. They both came into the draft with problems with drops, helping to contribute to lackluster reception percentages. They both have limitations in their route tree, though Bryant significantly more so, and Coates should have less difficulty translating to the NFL immediately.
On the plus side, both are tremendously physically gifted, with plus height and speed, both of which factors helped contribute to them posting huge yards per reception numbers. Both receivers have a knack for tracking the ball down the field and into their hands.
Here is, however, perhaps my favorite comparison: they will both have gone from poor college quarterbacks to a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, and they will be a pupil of wide receivers coach Richard Mann, a technician who preaches the fundamentals and rides his players.
Bryant immediately displayed a willingness to be coached, and if Coates can bring that same attitude with him—he doesn’t appear to be an overly emotional player in terms of negative body language, as Mann noted—he should have a successful pro career. And I’m certain that Roethlisberger is not complaining about having another weapon that can test out his deep arm.