When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted wide receiver Sammie Coates in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, they knew they were bringing in a player who was not going to play right away. Not only would he need time to grow as a wide receiver, but he was also entering arguably the most crowded group of pass catchers in the league.
Coates, the big-play threat from Auburn during his collegiate career, however, knew all about that, too, and it was probably that mental maturity to understand not only the team’s position, but his own position, that encouraged them to draft him, given the circumstances around their targeting a wide receiver at that spot.
Instead of coming into the league with a sense of entitlement, or arrogance that he was ready to take on the world, he came in with the understanding that he needed to grow into his game, and grow into the role of a professional, before he could be counted upon to contribute.
And in fact, he did have to wait patiently, as the Steelers even chose to activate a rookie undrafted free agent who actually played quarterback during his collegiate career during the early portion of the season through Martavis Bryant’s suspension rather than throwing him onto the field.
Although everybody who is in the league for a love in the game would love to be on the football field, Coates’ healthy attitude no doubt helped guide him through his rookie season. He recently told Teresa Varley for the team’s website that he knew “it’s going to be a grind whether you are playing or not”.
“I knew I had to continue to grow as a player”, he said, “so when I did have an opportunity to play I would be ready”. On not being able to get on the field, and whether or not it was difficult, he said, “it wasn’t hard because I knew I had to work”.
But it wasn’t just his own understanding of his current limitations that kept him grounded. It was also his fellow wide receivers who surrounded him. Not only did they help him grow into his game over the course of the year, he also saw their collective talent and understood that it was time to sit back and learn from those who have already been there.
“It makes you compete more when you have guys like that around you, great players who are the best in the league”, he said about his teammates in the wide receiver meeting room. “It makes you want to become one of the best in the league. It made me work harder so I can be one of the best in the league”.
While he still has a long wait ahead of him, perhaps—the Steelers have retained every wide receiver who finished the 2015 season on the 53-man roster—there’s no doubt that both he and the team are looking forward to seeing more productivity from the 6’1” speedster in his second season.
He got a chance to offer a preview of his skills during his two-catch, 61-yard cameo in the postseason. And that opportunity—created by the injury suffered by Antonio Brown—drilled home the importance of being ready at a moment’s notice, knowing that his number could be called at any time.