The 2014 and 2015 draft classes were regarded as some of the deepest of all time in terms of the sheer accumulation of talent at the wide receiver position. The Pittsburgh Steelers came out of those two classes with Martavis Bryant (drafted in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft) and Sammie Coates (drafted in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft).
While Bryant showed himself to be an enormous, game-breaking talent—with quite a penchant for off-the-field issues currently threatening to eradicate his professional career—the Steelers are still very much looking to find out what they might have gotten in Coates.
Logging only a few dozen snaps during his rookie season, Coates was only targeted twice during the regular season and caught one pass for 11 yards, but in the Divisional round, when he had to be called in to play after Antonio Brown suffered a concussion the previous week, he caught two passes for 61 yards, including a 37-yarder, both of the catch-and-run variety, and also drew a pass interference call.
That performance put a sparkle in many an eye in and around Pittsburgh of those quickly growing optimistic about his future, and spring reports about his fantastic shape and big plays being made during OTAs and minicamp have done nothing to suppress that—nor has the need for his role to increase with Bryant’s indefinite suspension already in play.
When it comes to fantasy value, however, his stock is evidently still quite mercurial, as, I suppose, it should be, as he very much lacks a defined role, sitting somewhere, presumably, between Markus Wheaton in the starting lineup and veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey, whose stature in the offense seems to ebb and flow as needed, and having recently been retained on a three-year contract.
Fantasy expert Alex Gelhar recently did a breakdown of the sophomore wide receivers as it relates to their fantasy value and broke them down into three tiers: the “Top of the Heap”, the “Question Marks”, as it pertains to players dealing with injury, and the “Wild Cards”.
Coates naturally falls under that final category—after all, he only played well under 100 snaps all season—with Gelhar writing that you should “keep Coates on the waiver wire this fall, but watch how he performs in the preseason and first few games of the year in case a breakout is on the horizon”.
Gelhar notes in his write-up that “Coates has devoted himself to improving his conditioning and diet this offseason”, which is of course something that we have already covered, but also points out the need for him to supplant Heyward-Bey and Wheaton on the depth chart “to truly make an impact in redraft fantasy leagues”. Full disclosure, I don’t even know what that means.
But it’s far from unrealistic to imagine a breakout season for Coates, who is arguably the most physically gifted wide receiver on the team, even if Ryan Shazier might be faster. He has the most athletic build and size-speed-strength combination among the wide receivers, however, and a college track record of big-play ability. It should certainly be exciting to watch his development during August, for purely non-fantasy reasons.