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Scouting Report: Corey Coleman and the Fringe Case

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The Vikings may be looking for a jump-ball receiver to fight for the ball in order to increase scoring opportunities. Corey Coleman may not be the guy to leap for a difficult-to-win catch, but he certainly can score. Will his other talents be enough to ignore the prototype? His statistical case says yes. We'll see if the film matches.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Early in the week, we looked at Josh Doctson to see if he could be the weapon the Vikings needed to move the offense to the next tier and make the passing game a true threat. His complementary skillset filled a niche the Vikings didn't have. Corey Coleman, perhaps the most prolific top receiver in this year's draft, doesn't provide that specific skillset, but is he good enough to overcome that?

When looking at this year's receivers prospects, a cursory glance at their statistics—€”both basic and advanced—€”radically shift one's attention to Corey Coleman. He led the FBS in receiving touchdowns and did so running away, with a margin of three and beating the closest draft prospect by six. Of draft prospects likely to go in the first three rounds, he leads them in yards from scrimmage.

In the more predictive advanced statistics, Coleman leads his draft peer group in market share of yards (percentage of team receiving yards) and falls behind only Will Fuller in market share of touchdowns (percentage of team receiving touchdowns).

As a result, I'll start with his statistical case before moving on to the film traits, unlike on Monday.

Ben Natan, a good football evaluator and fun twitter follow wrote his ode to Corey Coleman back in December, and what he wrote then had me intrigued. In particular, it starts with an embrace of the statistics we used to throw away when evaluating NFL fit, and focusing on The Big Thing that matters:

Touchdowns are an incredibly beautiful and powerful thing. They are the eighth wonder of the world. Touchdowns killed Schrodinger's cat. Chip Kelly left his wife for touchdowns.

They are also incredibly hard to get.

The number one goal of every defensive player and coach is to prevent touchdowns. There are 11 players and god knows how many coordinators and assistant coaches who have dedicated their lives to stopping the touchdown. When the ball is snapped, those 11 players will go to war to stop the touchdown and will do whatever it takes to keep offenses out of the hallowed end zone. So, if a wide receiver is constantly scoring touchdowns, he must be pretty damn good.

For wide receivers, scoring touchdowns is a skill.

He's right.

I mean he's being intentionally reductive, but he's essentially correct.

Touchdowns in the NFL are a precious commodity, and research indicates that receiving touchdowns are harder to replace than receiving yards, and finding one's way into the end zone is a critical, replicable skill (or set of skills) that exists independent of the other skills involved in receiving.

While I think the research overstates its conclusions (and doesn't overcome numerous issues, like a scaling/threshold problem, rushing attempt conversion, or the fact that teams made inferior by injury are more likely to pass in order to catch up), I think it's useful knowledge.

There's also a long history of research that indicates that in the NFL, receiving touchdowns is a replicable skill across seasons, though that doesn't always bear out—€”our own Mike Wallace providing strong evidence of that fact.

The question is whether or not those touchdowns in college create touchdowns in the NFL. From what we know, they do! The presumption for a high draft pick should be that if he produced touchdowns in college, he will in the NFL and we should provide evidence that he can't—€”not the other way around.

In other words, statistically, one is innocent until proven guilty when it comes to touchdown replication.

For Corey Coleman, unfortunately, I think the evidence is against him.

#Metrics

Since 2006, if you avoided receivers in the top forty picks that produced below-average rushing or receiving touchdowns per game (average in this case meaning, average of receivers picked in the top forty) in their best college year (or accounted for a below-average percent of their team's receiving touchdowns), you would have been able to avoid thirteen busts and only have missed two hits. Those busts: Cordarrelle Patterson, Devin Thomas, Ted Ginn, Justin Hunter, Anthony Gonzalez, Arrelious Benn, Dexter McCluster, Donnie Avery, Sinorice Moss, Buster Davis, Kenny Britt, Eddie Royal and Jonathan Baldwin.

The two hits are admittedly huge: Julio Jones and Odell Beckham (on Monday, I did mention that Beckham would likely get an exemption as he was paired with another top seventy-five receiver who would steal touchdowns away from him).

If you proceeded to chase players who were above average in either, you would have (excepting unusual circumstances like Titus Young, Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin) 21 hits and 9 busts. Of the busts, you could probably ignore Jerome Simpson and Brian Quick, as they were small-school receivers and the metric is largely designed to attack FBS prospects. If you eliminate fringe cases on either side, it looks pretty good still: 18 hits and 7 busts in the touchdown group. That looks great compared to the 2 hits with 13 busts in the non-touchdown group.

For clarity's sake, I restricted that group to those who have played 24 games. This meant that the touchdown group was not dragged down by injury-riddled James Hardy, talent-deficient Chad Jackson (who should count as a bust, obviously), hands-adjacent Stephen Hill and judgment-challenged Justin Blackmon.

We have yet to learn the fates of touchdown group receivers Phillip Dorsett, Nelson Agholor, DeVante Parker, Paul Richardson, Amari Cooper, Kelvin Benjamin or Marqise Lee. We also don't yet know about non-touchdown group receivers Devin Smith or Dorial Green-Beckham.

If we got rid of total touchdowns and only looked at touchdown market share (again, percentage of team receiving touchdowns), you have 14 hits and 5 busts in the touchdown group and 5 hits to 19 busts in the non-touchdown group.

Coleman is certainly in that touchdown group. Aside from leading all FBS receivers this year in touchdowns (and second in all of the NCAA, behind Jon Schnaars of Division II East Stroudsburg), he has 33 career receiving touchdowns. His market share of touchdowns was 49 percent, which would rank 13th of the 58 receivers in the study.

As for age-adjusted production, his is very good and he produced a small percentage more than expected of a potential first-round phenom. At 21.5 years, he should produce 36.6 percent of his offense's yards and he produced 37 percent. His touchdown numbers add even more value, of course.

Are there clues in metric analysis that help identify busts among those who produce touchdowns in college? On average, the hits are a higher-density player and that measure (weight divided by height in feet) produces, on average, a score of 34.8 or higher for hits and 32.8 for busts. Only three players with a density of 33 or lower hit, while six of those players busted.

Coleman falls into this danger area with a listed height and weight that produces a density of only 32.7.

The question is if he can replicate the performances of Brandin Cooks or Jeremy Maclin, who overcame their density problem in college in order to produce touchdowns and did the same in the NFL. Santonio Holmes is the third player with a low density who did not bust, but he never turned into a touchdown machine, maxing out at eight touchdowns in a season (twice—2007 and 2011) and generating six or fewer scores in the other seven seasons.

Cooks, Maclin and Holmes all have astounding hands, consistently hauling in their targets—Cooks and Maclin both dropped fewer than 2% of their passes in each of the last two years, and Maclin has only had above-average drops once in his career, per STATS LLC.

They also do an incredible job using their quickness to generate separation, and their scouting reports are pretty similar. Holmes' report from Scout.com:

Pos: Consistent wideout with a polished game. Fluid releasing off the line, quickly gets into breaks and separates from opponents. Sneaks downfield and easily adjusts to the errant throw running full speed. Physical, battles to make the tough catch and is effective running after the reception. Effectively uses the sidelines and gets vertical, high-pointing the ball and plucking the pass from the air. Consistently extends to make the reception away from his frame and is a reliable pass-catcher.

Neg: Below-average blocker. More of a one-speed receiver who does not have a sudden burst.

Maclin from NFL.com:

Positives: Tight-skinned athlete. Good overall musculature. Explosive straight-line speed and quickness out of his breaks. Agile. Can make defenders miss in tight quarters. Natural playmaker who is a threat to score ---from any distance -- on every snap. Versatile athlete who can make plays in the running, receiving or return games. Natural pass catcher. Good body control to contort in space and make the spectacular reception. High-points passes and is an explosive leaper. High effort player. Courageous over the middle. Blocks downfield. Showed mental toughness in returning after a horrific knee injury in 2006.

Negatives: Still developing as a route-runner. Relies on his athletic ability at this point, and doesn't explode out of his cuts as well as he could. Will takes his eyes off the ball, on occasion, to prepare to make the defender miss, and drop the ball. Production inflated due to his role and the presence of other playmakers in this offense. Requires a medical check on his knee.

I don't really know what tight-skinned athlete really means, but that's fine. Cooks' from NFL.com:

STRENGTHS Light on his feet with terrific balance. Sinks his hips with ease and pops out of breaks to separate. Tracks and adjusts. Quick hands. Good concentration, body control and boundary awareness. Can turn a short throw into a long gain. Shows elusiveness, creativity and vision after the catch. Unafraid to play in the tall trees. Highly productive -- totaled 195 receptions for 2,881 yards (15.4-yard average) and 21 TDs in last two seasons. Confident and competitive. Has been exceptionally durable dating back to high school. Team captain. Will be a 21-year-old rookie.

WEAKNESSES Size is just adequate -- is small-framed and lacks ideal length and bulk. Vulnerable to the jam and reroute. Relatively small catch radius. Has small hands and double-catches some throws. Lacks elite, blazing speed to run by NFL corners and safeties. Will struggle to play "above the rim" at the next level. Was not an impactful punt returner. Limited run strength. Poor blocker.

While Holmes and Cooks showed more as a route-runner in terms of polish than Maclin, all three relied on high-level quickness, great hands and an ability to play larger than their size—tracking the ball, competing for high throws and exhibiting fantastic body control and sideline awareness. Though Cooks' report is skeptical of his ability to do that at the next level and didn't like some of the double-catches, the scout is thoroughly impressed with how he did it in college. They also indicate leaping ability to elevate above the natural disadvantages of their height.

Phenomenal quickness aside, Coleman does not have these traits in my viewing.

That's not the only way a small person can create touchdowns in the NFL, of course. Antonio Brown does it differently than Steve Smith, who both are different than DeSean Jackson. Even large receivers vary in their red zone roles—Eric Decker creates space and his teammate Brandon Marshall can ignore the lack of space. Can Coleman be savvy enough to replicate Antonio Brown, fast enough to be DeSean Jackson or bully enough to be Steve Smith?

Probably not.

None of this is to say Coleman is a bad receiver by any stretch of the imagination. He, like Doctson, is a very good receiver that should hear his name at least by early day two. But in terms of finding that precious commodity, I don't see him translating—60th overall pick Golden Tate is a good example of a player with a similar build, and similar strengths and weaknesses coming out of college with matching college production that turned into a very good player but not the kind you'd spend a first-round pick on.

Tate is more of a bully, had better hand strength and a worse release, but essentially had a lot of the same traits—though his catching technique improved tremendously in the NFL.

That said, if Coleman shows off more athleticism at the combine than I anticipate, he'll move back into the early second-round/late-first round conversation for me—but it could take a lot. Here are the range of combine outcomes I would expect for him, ranging from best to worst given his playstyle:

Outcomes Height Weight 40 Yard Dash 20 Yard Split 10 Yard Split Bench Press Vert Broad Jump Short Shuttle Three Cone
Best 6' 1/2" 197 4.35 2.51 1.50 17 42.5 10' 10" 3.90 6.60
Good 6' 0" 193 4.38 2.53 1.52 15 41 10' 8" 4.00 6.75
Median 5' 9 1/2" 190 4.42 2.55 1.54 14 40 10' 5" 4.10 6.80
Bad 5' 9" 187 4.46 2.57 1.57 11 38 10' 3" 4.15 6.95
Worst 5' 8 1/2" 183 4.49 2.58 1.59 8 36 9' 8" 4.20 7.05

I expect his straight-line speed and his quickness scores to be good and I don't anticipate an excellent bench press, vertical leap or broad jump—though all are certainly possible. Should he achieve the top scores, I'd certainly gamble on him late in the first round, perhaps well after pick 23. Other than that, even if he achieves "good" scores in the combine tests, I'd put him in the second-round. Here's why:


Route running

We'll end up talking about systems a lot I imagine for these scouting reports and the Baylor system is certainly a unique one as far as college football goes. It isn't simply another Air Raid offense (a term that encompasses a variety of offenses, all different in style and demand), but one hyper-focused on efficiency and pace—which means preserving the stamina of their receivers.

As a result, despite Baylor running an average of 85 plays a game, there just aren't many snaps where Coleman is doing anything. I don't just mean a lack of running routes because of run plays, I mean not even run blocking or running a fake route to clear out a defensive back.

That's not a negative to Coleman, but it does underscore the kind of system we're evaluating from. Doctson's Air Raid replicated NFL concepts and encouraged receivers to run "NFL routes". That's not to say good receivers can't come from Baylor; I mean Josh Gordon, Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams all did well on the field. All it does is induce another layer of caution and a more critical eye.

There are a lot of positives to Coleman's pre-catch work, and perhaps nothing speaks better to his ability to produce on the field than his release off the line of scrimmage. It's fantastic stuff, and I wouldn't be surprised if I won't see a better one in this class—and I love some of what this class can do.

It's perhaps his best tool and he utilizes quickness, leverage, savvy and strength to move off the line, and he succeeds against a variety of cornerbacks in this particular skill, from big press DBs to quick off-coverage guys. Arm movements and deception are his primary methods, but footwork plays a big role and he understands the importance of alignment and commitment in this context.

This kind of skill is critical to overcoming size concerns, and is one of the reasons Antonio Brown can perform at the level that he does.

Seriously, his releases off the line of scrimmage could be clinics at times.

Coleman's quickness shines when running routes, too. He can snap to any route from the break without gearing down at all, even comeback routes. Perhaps at the next level he will need to engage in more standard techniques to break open at the stem—notably sinking hips to generate explosion—but that may not be necessary for him to generate separation.

That's not to say that is what he consistently does. Coleman signals his routes like a traffic light—flipping his hips too early (and leaning) on comebacks, dipping his shoulder on go routes, and rounding out his inbreaking routes. It's a big problem and it turns a lot of YAC-friendly catches, like slants against off-coverage, into contested catches with no chance of additional yardage.

He does have beautiful moments of deception, and he knows how to bait defensive backs, but he so rarely employs it that it sometimes seems more like an accident at the moments we see it than intention. For the most part, it's an issue.

At times, Coleman will display strength in his routes and at the release, but most of the time, you can see him moved off of his route. He gets pushed to the sideline far too often and it's killed a lot of plays for Baylor. That lack of sideline awareness limits his ability to run deeper routes and I worry about him on outbreaking routes—and if a third of the route tree is closed off to you because of it, there should be a lot of concerns about his transition.

Still, there are moments in every game where he'll outmuscle an opposing defensive back, and unlike Doctson, these moments come against bigger and stronger DBs (yea, they play in the same conference, but Coleman just lined up against heavier and stronger dudes more often). It's just that these moments are not that plentiful and I think there are much bigger concerns overall about his ability to impose himself physically throughout the route.

One of the things that was so appealing about Doctson was his ability to improvise or use his intuition to find space in zones and help the quarterback by creating bigger or completely new passing windows. Coleman has some of this, but it's not the kind of trump card for him as it is for Doctson.

He's very good at option routes and transitioning to hot routes based on the leverage of the defense, and he knows how his quarterback should react to unexpected changes in the defense. There seem to be some pretty simple rules at times for the Baylor offense, and it's good that he executes them well, but it does obscure the opportunity to see more complex changes and how they impact his game. Some of those rules:

  • When he's in the slot in the red zone against Cover-2 zone looks, it seems inevitable that Coleman will run (and score on) a post route that initially shades outside.
  • Against Tampa-2 when he's on the outside, it's a curl in the hole between the outside CB, the inside zone defender and the safety on top
  • There are a lot of Cover-1 go checks in the offense, which is not a huge surprise

There were some issues that came up when looking at how he adjusts his game based on game intuition, however. His adjustments to zones is generally not that great and he doesn't create or find space as often as a player of his skill level should, in particular exposing his routes to dangerous underneath defenders willing to jump throwing lanes.

There are times when he seems exemplary at it, like in the Tampa-2 situation I described above, but for the most part he seems to be more likely to cause problems than solutions in this context.

This of course doesn't mean he's never open or anything (he is in fact open quite a lot), but it does create some issues when translating his performance from Baylor to the NFL.

Catching the Ball

This is actually my biggest issue when translating Coleman's production to NFL production. The successes with his body type, expected draft position, and production generally had very good hands in college. If you want to remove the "draft position" qualifier, Golden Tate stands out as an interesting exception, but he also wasn't an enormous touchdown producer in the NFL and he was a somewhat unusual case of a player with poor hands in college turning into a reliable producer in the NFL.

I counted his drop rate at 14.6 percent (17.8 percent (!!!) with games including rain), which is quite high. That doesn't include some of his contested catches, which I counted as PDs, where he was three of eight attempts (37.5%).

For some context, the NFL.com scouting report has it at 11.9 percent, but the evaluator seems to be marking drops per target and I am marking drops per "drops plus catch"—modifying his formula to mine and PFF's makes his effective drop rate, according to Lance Zierlein, 14.4%.

Off the bat, the numbers are quite worrisome, but we always have to figure out how and why. Some drops are hard to correct (small hands, focus) and some are (relatively) easy to correct (grip strength, technique). Where's Coleman?

It's difficult for me to figure out the size of his hands from my resources, naturally, but I don't know they look kind of small to me. Maybe that's biased because he's short and doesn't catch well. From what I can tell, his grip strength (which could be a proxy for hand size, if we're being honest) is pretty average and that doesn't seem to be the issue with regards to drops.

His technique is pretty bad, though, and hopefully that's the only reason his drop rate is so high. He will often trap the ball, and often needs his body to help him secure the catch, even when he high-points it. When he can, he'll attempt to bucket catch the ball and squeeze it against his body but unlike some receivers who have this problem has no issue with fully extending in order to reach the ball.

His issues with technique aren't just more problematic from a results standpoint than Doctson (who has an average drop rate), but from a degree standpoint, too. While it would be easier to characterize my issues with Doctson's hands technique as nitpicking, I think it represents a serious problem here.

Like every receiver, he has shown instances of good technique, keeping his hands together and flashing them late in the route, but for the most part it's not a pretty sight and it creates problems.

Part of this is also related to his approach—he doesn't really attack the ball, instead letting it come to him. Not only does that increase his drop rate, it will make catches in tight spaces more difficult—particularly along the sideline and in the end zone—and it will increase the number of contested catches by giving defenders more time to close.

This is really aggravating because of how many curls and comebacks he ran at Baylor; you'd think he'd do a better job of working back to the ball and securing it before anyone else, but he always waits for the ball to come in to him... which means he's waiting for defenders to get to the ball, too.

That's not great news, because he's not particularly good at contested catches. While his hands technique happens to improve when jumping for 50/50 balls, his average grip strength usually results in a pass defensed rather than caught (though at least not usually interceptions).

His body positioning on these catches can be pretty good, but the deeper the pass, the less likely he can do it. It does help that he consistently shields the ball when catching, but the timing on his jumps isn't great and neither is his vertical lift. As a result, he won about 40 percent (slightly less) of his contested catches. Compare that to Josh Doctson, who won 90% of his contested catches, and the comparison becomes starker.

We have a small sample, so I wouldn't say that 35-40% is the truth when it comes to Coleman's contested catch rate, but it's certainly worrisome. It seems like, on the roster, Charles Johnson may be the only worse receiver in those situations (and his upside to improve there is theoretically better, given his physical assets).

His ball-tracking is about average, and compared to the Vikings receivers is a definite upgrade. He will still make mistakes at times from all three levels of the field, but whatever. He maintains the catch through contact, and doesn't get spooked.

A lot of short receivers who have iffy catch technique tend to have a small catch radius, but that doesn't seem to be quite the case for Coleman, who might not be elite when it comes to recovering balls thrown behind him or over him, but is pretty good at extending his arms to find the ball and avoiding the classic problem that comes with body-catchers, which is to keep the arms as folded in as much as possible.

Overall, his drop and catch issues concern me, but I wouldn't put them on the level of Justin Hunter or Marqise Lee—perhaps something like Jordan Matthews.

After Catch

Corey Coleman is a pleasure to watch with the ball in his hands.

He has virtually every quality you look for in an after-catch receiver, even in difficult catch situations or in the middle of the field. It's no surprise, of course, as Baylor often used him as a running back to take advantage of his prodigious speed.

It makes sense, of course, that he has running back-quality vision and you could start grading him as a running back, if you really wanted to, right down to pad level and block-reading. He even knows to switch the arm he carries the ball in.

His vision is fantastic, and he knows how to attack blocks and open space very well. He has extremely quick feet, can balance patience and decisiveness, and is correct in his choices.

Coleman displays elusiveness, agility in all dimensions, stop-start ability, and acceleration. His immediate intuition after the catch is almost always correct and he knows how to turn as soon as the ball hits his hands.

The Baylor prospect drives through arm tackles and showcases excellent lower and upper-body strength when met with contact. Sometimes he powers through contact with leg drive and other times he'll stiff-arm defenders.

His balance makes it all possible, and it's fantastic. He has a natural feel for jukes and can string multiple moves together to avoid multiple defenders. His ability to slip through tackles is great and his cuts are pristine. He can choose to avoid head-on contact if need be, or drive through it and seems to have no issue with physical play—choosing to take on contact if it's necessary.

If this sounds like unabashed praise, sure. Maybe he's not Darren Sproles or (healthy) Percy Harvin after the catch, but man, he's fun.

Miscellany

He wasn't asked to block at Baylor, as you can tell from my frustrated screed at the top. There are instances (usually surprises) where he's forced to block, sometimes for scrambling quarterbacks and occasionally for freelancing running backs or receivers further upfield. When he does block, he's bad at it, but I'm not holding it against him.

His surgery for sports hernia isn't worrisome, but worth noting. In 2014, he missed three games due to a hamstring injury. His build and playing style might cause concerns with injury as well, but nothing major.

It doesn't seem like there are issues with his intangibles and ESPN gave him an "above average" grade in intangibles (their second-highest grade), so everything seems to check out.

Usage

I'll be using the SimScores analysis from last time. Requoted:

This doesn't tell us a whole lot, but I've been able to create Similarity Scores using Matt Harmon's research. He has logged over 200 routes for 30 NFL receivers and currently 10 draft-eligible wide receivers (more NFL and college receivers to come) and while I may be able to later on create "proposed usage/role" scores for college receivers with more data, I can tell you which NFL receivers each college prospect most closely mirrors in terms of usage.

This isn't part of the grade, but it does let us know how college coaches used their prospect and whose game they hoped to mirror. SimScores range from 0-100, and the 90+ scores are the most interesting. Some college WRs have no NFL players whose SimScore is over 90+ and some with a great many. Doctson is one of those, with 12 matching WRs.

Coleman is the prospect who does not match. He has zero NFL wide receivers with a SimScore over 90 because of the system he was in.  He ran curl routes more often than NFL receivers, and in Harmon's sample he ran them 13.9 percentage points more often than the average wide receiver and five percentage points more often than the NFL receiver who ran them the most—Davante Adams.

Given that he didn't run out-breaking routes (2.5% of all of his routes were out-breaking, and none of them were out routes), you could theoretically combine them with comebacks and in comparing all of his hook routes with other NFL receivers, his total matches those of Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans.

Even after accounting for that, he simply does not run routes at an NFL rate. See below (again, data collected by Matt Harmon at Backyard Banter):

Route Average NFL WR Corey Coleman
Screen 3.6% 10.7%
Slant 16.1% 12.4%
Curl 13.4% 27.3%
Dig 5.0% 0.8%
Post 13.5% 4.1%
Nine 21.8% 32.2%
Corner 4.5% 1.7%
Out 4.1% 0.0%
Comeback 6.3% 0.8%
Flat 6.1% 1.7%
Other 5.6% 8.3%

That he ran nine/go routes isn't an issue, it's that he didn't run the other mess of NFL routes. Few sharp routes like digs and outs (in fact, no out routes) and surprisingly few post routes for a deep receiver. It's an issue, but one functionally covered above.

Conclusion

If you can't tell, I think Coleman is essentially a somewhat better Golden Tate. I do not think that provides unique value to the Vikings given who they have and in a vacuum, I would think that Doctson is a superior receiver but that Coleman is the more exciting player. If Doctson is worth a pick around 40, I would say that Coleman is worth a pick around 50 or so for the average team and lower for the Vikings. To me, he's not in consideration for Minnesota, but he will be fun to watch.