By: Zach Metkler, GZ Sports Report Writer
Whenever the Steelers lost Martavis Bryant to a year-long suspension, the team was left trying to fill the void for the #2 receiver. Many believed that Markus Wheaton would be the clear front-runner for the spot. After the preseason and five weeks of the regular season, however, Sammie Coates has been the guy the Steelers have turned to.
It has not all been pretty, though.
Against the Jets in Week 5, Coates led the Steelers in receiving yards (139), average yards per reception (23.2), and touchdowns (2). This is an extremely solid day for almost any receiver in the NFL. But the scary part about it was that Coates could have and should have had an even better day statistically. Coates was targeted 11 times against the Jets, meaning five passes weren’t on the mark, right? Wrong. Three of the five passes were catchable passes that were dropped by Coates and at least two of them could have turned into touchdowns, which would have given him four touchdowns on the day with an additional 40-50 receiving yards.
After the game, it was revealed that Coates suffered a laceration on his left hand during the first half that required stitches at halftime. Coates said after the game that he had no idea when and how the injury occurred. But regardless, Coates performance essentially summarized what we have come to expect from the second-year receiver at this point in his young career.
Through the first five weeks, Sammie Coates is second on the team in receiving yards with 421, behind only All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown (447), and his 22.2 yards per reception is good enough for the best average in the NFL. Coates also has five straight games of having at least one reception of 40+ yards, which is one game away from the franchise record.
Coates is beginning to blossom into one of the best deep threats in the NFL due to his combination of speed, size, and strength, making him a matchup nightmare for most cornerbacks in the league. However, Coates’ path to this point has been anything but easy.
Thirteen years ago when Coates was in fifth grade, his father died in a tragic industrial-garbage-truck accident. Growing up in the small town of Leroy, Alabama, Coates had an inseparable bond with his father. Just as you would expect with anyone suffering that type of loss, Coates became an angry, hardened, mean person. Coates would later go on to describe the loss as a having a hole in his heart and that bitterness he experienced almost drove him away from football and his family. After shutting virtually everyone in his life out, Coates had received just one scholarship offer and had committed to play at the University of Southern Mississippi. But just when he had hit his lowest point, the athletic receiver was encouraged to try-out for the Auburn Tigers, where he would eventually join in the summer leading into his senior year.
While at Auburn, Coates quickly became a deep threat for the Tigers, finishing his redshirt sophomore season with 14 catches of 30+ yards. During his redshirt junior season, Coates set a school record with 206 yards on 5 receptions with 2 touchdowns, which gave him an astounding average of 41.2 yards per reception. Although he finished his career at Auburn 10th on the all-time receiving yards list, he was highly criticized for his receiving ability. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com gave the following analysis on Coates leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft:
Looks the part. Long legs with well-proportioned frame. Outstanding combination of size and speed. Good acceleration off the snap for a receiver with his length. Can take top off defense and open up the underneath. Will beat bold cornerbacks over the top if they wait to turn and run. Forces cornerbacks onto their heels and gets easy, open looks on dig routes. Makes easy in-cut with maximum separation. Ability to win big plays vertically. Saved best performances for big games. Put 206 yards and two touchdowns on Alabama in 2014.
Won’t be on quarterback’s Christmas card list. Wasn’t always on same page with Auburn QB Nick Marshall. Unreliable target. Inexplicable focus drops in all areas of the field. Doesn’t play with extended catch radius. Had a drop rate of 19.1 percent. Vertical receiver without vertical feel. Inconsistent play speed. Will gear down too easily on deep routes, turning catchable touchdowns into “overthrows.” Suspect ball tracking. Must improve at using body to ward off defenders. Inconsistent with contested catches. Stiff hips and limited route runner. Slow to gather and turn it upfield on catch-and-runs.
Big, fast and raw. Vertical wide receiver with the ability to hit big plays and have dominant games. Coates must be coached to trust his quarterback and run through his deep routes in order to reach his potential. He has early round traits and late-round receiving skills right now, but the upside will be hard to pass on and could pay off in a big way. He will be tethered to the JUGS machine in rookie camp.
As noted in the draft analysis of Coates, he shares many of the same athletic traits as former deep-threat Martavis Bryant. The Steelers drafted Coates with the idea that he could replace Bryant if he failed another drug test. Like Bryant, Coates has freakish athletic ability and could serve the offense in the same capacity. But unlike Bryant, Coates doesn’t carry the same off-field concerns that have plagued Bryant’s career so far. This gives Coates the chance to learn and mesh with the Steelers starters while giving offensive coordinator Todd Haley another toy to play with in the passing game.
Realistically, over the remainder of this season, Coates will have more growing pains (and probably more drops) that will put him through the emotional journey a lot of receivers go through. But analyses do not show is Coates’ development as a person due to his ability to accept the past and how to handle problems he faces in life. He has given credit to the positive people he has surrounded himself with in his life and considers himself to be a much happier person. Coates season has been full of ups and downs so far, creating a painful experience at times but a downright amazing experience at other times. But what Coates has learned in life will take him farther than anything else has. That will make him a stronger person for all of the obstacles he will face in life and on the football field. He has overcome in his life and will overcome on the football field.
This is all part of the Sammie Coates experience.
The sky is the limit for the man from Leroy.