While many in the national media wondered during the draft why in the world the Pittsburgh Steelers would select a wide receiver in the third round when there were so many defensive needs to be addressed, it seems that the majority of the team’s fan base and local media understood the importance of adding Sammie Coates into the mix of talented receivers already on board.
Behind All-Pro Antonio Brown, budding playmaker Martavis Bryant, and the still ascending Markus Wheaton, Coates figures to have his work cut out for him as a rookie, and should that end up actually being true, that would be perfectly fine. After all, it’s not even entirely settled who will start opposite Brown between Bryant and Wheaton, even if Wheaton is increasingly working in the slot.
There has, however, been a slight be significant undercurrent of negativity about Wheaton, whose snaps to yardage ratio and two touchdowns as a starter in his second season were not overly inspiring, and with that naturally comes the next man up mentality, where the backup is always better.
In other words, some immediately began to clamor for Coates climbing the depth chart, passing Wheaton to work with Brown and Bryant as part of the Steelers’ base offense, which has become a three-receiver look in recent years. Many seemed to feel it would only be a matter of time, despite the rookie’s rawness and reputation for dropped passes.
But Matt Williamson of ESPN has also come to the conclusion that Coates will make an impact for the Steelers as a rookie—perhaps not the way that Bryant did last year, recording nine touchdowns in 11 games, but in a meaningful way.
More importantly, Williamson concludes at the end of his article and analysis that “there is an opportunity here for Coates to unseat Wheaton, who has yet to distinguish himself as Pittsburgh’s third receiver”.
Of course, as a rookie he was essentially Pittsburgh’s fifth receiver, and last year he spent most of the time as Pittsburgh’s second receiver, so to say that he has yet to establish himself in a role that he hasn’t really played much as of yet might not mean a great deal.
But Williamson cites conversations with “people close to the situation”, who have told him that the team is impressed with the rookie’s “already strong knowledge of Pittsburgh’s playbook” and that “his large, strong hands catch the ball surprisingly softly”.
Obviously, Coates is a tremendously talented athlete, which is why he was selected in the third round in spite of a reputation for drops and a lackluster body of collegiate statistics after playing with some dire quarterback performances.
It goes without saying that pairing that talent with a premiere quarterback such as Ben Roethlisberger might help some of that ability come to light. It’s still very early in Coates’ career, and it’s hard to predict how this season will go, but the reality is that any player who proves to be better than a player ahead of him on the depth chart makes the team better.