Yesterday I mocked Brandon Coleman to the Seahawks late in the first round. I’ve written about Coleman before, but this was the first time I’d paired him with the Seahawks. For me he’s a unique prospect. And one of the things we’ve learnt about Seattle’s front office is ‘unique’ isn’t considered a bad thing.
Physically there’s a lot to like. He’s 6-6 with a 220lbs frame. Despite being so tall, he’s shown the ability to run away from defensive backs (see this 85-yard touchdown against Louisville). You don’t see many Brandon Coleman’s in the NFL.
So how come I have him falling to #26 overall in a mock draft? Simple really. He’s had only one year as a permanent starter with limited production in terms of yardage. We’ve come to celebrate receivers like Marqise Lee, Justin Blackmon and Michael Crabtree – putting up insane numbers on the road to Biletnikoff awards. All playing in high-power passing offenses with capable quarterbacks. That’s just what you’re expected to do these days. Despite the obvious potential with Coleman, some teams are going to be put off when they see 39 catches for the 2012 season and just 663 yards. He had only two 100-yard games for Rutgers this year – the second aided by that 85 yard touchdown I linked to earlier.
No other position in college football is impacted by scheme quite as much as the receiver position. Play for an air raid attack, reach 1200-1800 yards and ten scores? You’re likely to receive a nice boost to your draft stock. It’s helped players like Jacksonville’s Blackmon who – although talented – didn’t flash incredible physical qualities like Calvin Johnson or Julio Jones.
“You look at other schools across the country and it doesn’t seem like it’s a lot (his production). Look at West Virginia and what their two guys (Stedman Bailey, who has 23 touchdown catches, and Tavon Austin, who has 12) have done this year. One of them had four (touchdown receptions) in a game, and they had a couple of three-touchdown games. I guess it depends on where you play. So I’m not sure if I can compare it to anything.”
He’s right. There’s no point comparing stats. Although there’s no doubt some teams will. Demaryius Thomas is a good example of a player with superb physical qualities. However, he featured in Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense and questions were raised over his ability to work in a conventional system. He only had one year of big production. In the end he fell to the #22 overall pick in 2010 despite having physical qualities matching a top-fifteen pick (6-3, 224lbs, 4.50 forty yard dash). Give him a quarterback in Denver and suddenly he’s a top-ten receiver in the NFL. Seattle won’t have to wait to find their quarterback, and there’s no reason why Coleman can’t have similar success.
The question is – if Coleman does declare for the 2013 draft – which team is going to see beyond a lack of production and experience? Who is going to look past what a player hasn’t done or can’t do, and concentrate on what he can?
You have, in short, a roster whose beauty lies in how different it is. This also makes the Seahawks one difficult team to prepare for on Sundays.
“If you wanna point to the height of the corners or the quarterback, it goes to what we’ve looked for, and that really goes back to SC,” said Carroll, who coached the USC Trojans for nine years. “We’re looking for uniqueness in our players — the quality that separates them.”
That plays out in how the scouts and coaches are trained to think by the Seahawks. They’re told to break the football man’s natural inclination to find what a player can’t do well rather than what he can or does do well. It’s born there, in the Seahawks’ goal of identifying players by thinking outside the box — for instance, while (Bruce) Irvin’s troubled teenage years raised a fire-engine red flag for some teams, the Seahawks were amazed that he’d found his way out — and it’s nurtured in a system that accentuates the strengths of the incoming guys.
The Seahawks are constantly looking for unique qualities, and it wouldn’t get much more unique than a gangly 6-6 receiver whose best football is yet to come. As Breer testifies, they concentrate on what a player ‘can’ do. So what can Brandon Coleman do? He’s 6-6, so he’s capable of winning a lot of jump balls – something the Seahawks use a lot in their quick-strike offense. He can out-run much smaller defensive backs. He’s a hands catcher capable of pulling the ball out of the air. And more than anything else – he scores touchdowns. His ten scores this year equalled a school record. He can break that record when he takes on Virginia Tech tomorrow in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
This doesn’t mean you ignore some of the issues. For such a big player he could be more physical. There’s a level of consistency you’d like to see him reach (has the occasional drop). He’s not running a big route-tree in college. Even so – these are aspects you can work on. You can’t expect perfect receivers to be around in the late first round.
In many ways he looks ideal for the Seahawks offense. He’d offer a new dimension – a receiver with different skills to both Sidney Rice and Golden Tate. Coleman would offer a red zone threat and be a great target on those play action downfield passes into single coverage. I contest that the Seahawks aren’t necessarily looking for 1500 yard seasons from their wideouts. They’ll spread things around, run the football. The receivers might get two catches in a game, both for big plays. That’s the nature of the quick strike attack. And the two eligible players capable of adding to that quick-strike mentality in the draft will be Coleman and Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson.
Pete Carroll appears to be switched on when it comes to trends in the league. He helped develop the move to bigger cornerbacks. He studied the use of the read-option in Washington and how that helped Robert Griffin III have such an early impact for the Redskins. At a time when the league was all about big yardage in the passing game, Carroll concentrated on the run – just as several other teams followed this example. Ever since he took over in 2010, the Seahawks have seemingly been ahead of the curve.
Having helped develop the big cornerback trend, he may have to come up with an answer on offense too. Facing 6-3 cornerbacks these days? Perhaps the answer is to draft a 6-6 receiver who can run a 4.5 and win jump balls?
Going back to the yardage issue, here’s a few numbers to consider when judging Coleman. A.J. Green never had double figure touchdowns in a season (highest he had was nine in 2010). Green also never topped 1000 yards at Georgia in a single season. In Julio Jones’ second season as a starter in Alabama, he had 596 yards and four touchdowns. Jones also never reached double figures for touchdowns in a single season. It took Calvin Johnson until his final year at Georgia Tech to top 1000 yards and double figures for touchdowns. In Johnson’s first two years as a starter, he averaged 6.5 touchdowns a year and just over 800 yards.
Suddenly, a ten touchdown season with a game to go doesn’t appear so bad for Coleman given this is his first full year as a starter.
Will he declare? He recently commented he was leaning towards returning to college. Considering most people weren’t even sure he was undecided, this is perhaps a greater development for those hoping to see him in the NFL. It had been assumed he’d return for further seasoning. It appears he’s leaving the door open – and so he should. A big bowl performance could move him towards the NFL.
There are benefits to returning – namely further experience on the field as a starter. However, he’ll need to decide whether he’s just delaying the inevitable. It may be that he has to play in a pro-offense with pro-coaching before he truly takes the next step. There’s no guarantee that staying at Rutgers will automatically mean improved numbers or consistency next year. It’s not like the Scarlet Knights are suddenly going to become an up-tempo passing team. If his main priority is to improve as a player rather than success in college, he might be better off in the NFL.
Finding a tall, explosive receiver to add to the offense is arguably the teams biggest need after an upgrade at the three technique. If Brandon Coleman does turn pro, there’s a good chance he’ll be on this teams radar.