The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted wide receiver Sammie Coates in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft largely in direct result of the fact that they knew that the potential for a pending suspension and future troubles later on down the road existed with second-year wide receiver Martavis Bryant. Head coach Mike Tomlin admitted as much during a press conference in recent weeks.
In spite of that fact, however, that doesn’t mean that he will see much playing time at all on offense during Bryant’s four-game suspension. At least one writer, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, contends that undrafted rookie quarterback-turned-wide-receiver Tyler Murphy is more fairly regarded as the fourth wide receiver at this time, with Coates as the fifth.
Whether or not there is any credibility to that assertion remains to be seen, although we will only have to wait one more day to find out. There is certainly a possibility that one or the other finds himself on the inactive list for the season opener, which would provide an immediate answer to the question posed.
While Murphy did have one strong preseason performance in which he recorded two explosive plays that exhibited the ability to record yards after the catch, one of which was a touchdown, he is still as much or more of a work in progress relative to Coates, who was regarded as raw mechanically and fundamentally coming out of college.
At least Coates played the position, however, while Murphy spent his time in college as a quarterback. He spent a good portion of the offseason with the Steelers under center, as well, which did not help him make a transition from one position to the other.
In his favor, however, is Coates’ own struggles. The rookie third-rounder had a reputation for having poor hands in college, which is obvious simply by watching the number of balls that he dropped in college, and this is a ‘skill’ that has translated seamlessly to the professional level, as he had four or five clear and certain dropped passes during the preseason.
But he also displayed some of the very same things that got him drafted, including size, speed, and big play ability. He led the Steelers during the preseason with 10 receptions for 179 yards, though he did not record a touchdown.
What he did record was a pair of what we like to call double-explosive plays. An explosive play is regarded as a play on which 20 or more yards are gained. A double-explosive play spans at least 40 yards, and is an informal reference point.
Coates recorded a 54-yard pass against Green Bay in the third preseason game. He saw little playing time the following week, but he hauled in a 42-yard pass during the preseason finale. He has also drawn some pass interference calls in the secondary after beating the defensive back.
While I would play Coates over Murphy if in need of a fourth wide receiver, it would not surprise me if the Steelers did decide to use Murphy. If there is an injury, or if for some uncharacteristic reason the team uses a number of four-receiver sets, however, I would expect the team to use both intermittently depending on the circumstances, assuming that both are active.