The curious case of Auburn’s Sammie Coates

In our first 2015 mock draft yesterday, some of you asked why we had Seattle taking D’haquille ‘Duke’ Williams over his Auburn team mate Sammie Coates.

It’s a fair question. Coates is a tremendous athlete and a safe bet to be one of the combine’s winners in February (if he decides to turn pro as a redshirt junior). In Bruce Feldman’s annual ‘Freaks’ list, this year he had Coates at #1:

Asked about Coates’ 40-time, Russell (Ryan Russell, Auburn strength coach) said they use hand times (which are often faster than electronic times) and they clocked him eight times, dropped out the highest and lowest and said he was at 4.25. Coates’ vertical jump: 44 inches. He benches 405 pounds. Maybe even more impressively, Russell said, the wideout did three strict chin-up reps despite have three 45-pound plates strapped to a weight belt around his waist. “He’s just a stud,” said Russell.

You just have to look at the guy to realize he’s as advertised. Coates is ripped. The extreme speed shows when he’s running downfield. At 6-2 and 201lbs he’s big enough. Simply put, he’s an outstanding athlete.

The type Seattle loves.

Ever since the 2012 draft they’ve focused on big-time, difference making athleticism. Bruce Irvin in the first round, followed by Bobby Wagner. In 2013 they traded the farm for Percy Harvin and followed it up by drafting Christine Michael in round two. This year they went after Paul Richardson with their top pick. You can see a theme emerging.

A lot of people wondered why we didn’t put a defensive tackle with the Seahawks yesterday. I don’t think they’d do it to be honest. I think they’ll continue to look for special athletic potential. Kind of like a modified Al Davis view of the game. Go after the stud’s in the early rounds — get your meat and potatoes type’s later on.

If SPARQ is such a big factor — ask yourself this. How many defensive tackles are great SPARQ athletes? Very few. The ones who are go early (see: Aaron Donald). Too early for a competitor. I think they’ll continue to look for the run stoppers, the interior defensive (and offensive) linemen later in the draft — mid-to-late rounds and UDFA. I don’t think they’re going to change, even if the Irvin pick provided mix results and the Michael selection is yet to pay off.

Coates the athlete is practically already wearing College Navy and Wolf Grey. But is Coates the football player worthy of consideration? That’s the big question.

We identified several big-time athletes at the wide receiver position prior to the 2014 draft. Guys like Cody Latimer, Donte Moncrief and Martavis Bryant. None landed in Seattle. We can speculate why — was Latimer the type of character to mesh in an intense locker room? Perhaps not. Moncrief’s play jumped between frustrating and fine. He underwhelmed at Ole Miss despite such incredible potential. Bryant was a potential head-case (albeit a talented potential head-case).

There are no character questions with Coates — and this is a good example as to why:

But what about his play on the field? Well, it’s underwhelming. Could be better.

For starters he’s earned a reputation for making big plays. Against Alabama in the Iron Bowl he had 206 yards from just five receptions. He had similar games against LSU (four catches, 144 yards) and Ole Miss (five catches, 122 yards). In those three games he recorded 472 yards and four touchdowns. In the other eight games he played this year he totaled just 245 yards and zero touchdowns. His 2014 season basically came down to three big games. The rest was a whole lot of nothing.

Well, ‘a whole lot of nothing’ might be a positive review. He dropped passes, couldn’t get open and was at times a non-factor. It’s telling that one of the more creative offenses in college football couldn’t find a way to get him more involved. Why was that? He didn’t have a single rushing attempt from a reverse or trick play. He was pretty much a guy who ran downfield and tried to make a big gain. And not much more.

You have to qualify that by pointing out he started the year struggling with a knee injury and didn’t get healthy until a few weeks into the season. He missed the second game against San Jose State.

I want to focus on his ability as a downfield receiver — because I think it’s his greatest strength and perhaps also his biggest problem.

When Coates has made his big plays this year, they’ve all been a little strange. For example, against LSU (see the video at the top of the piece) he made a difficult catch between two defenders for a big gain. And yet he barely left the ground. The pass was underthrown and he had time to adjust to the ball, track it in the air and go get it. Instead he took the catch into his body as he fell to the turf. Ideally you see him go up and get the football at its highest point. Let’s see the great vertical leap and some catching technique. We see none of that. You can’t criticize too much because he made the play — but it was almost inexplicable how it wasn’t defended.

Later in the game he made another big play over the middle — again he has time to track the ball, adjust and make the catch. And again it’s taken at chest-height despite the presence of two defenders. I’m not sure I’ve seen two catches like this completed in the same game. You want to throw something at the screen because his catching technique is so poor — and yet there he is making huge downfield catches for major yardage. How do you complain about that?

The more you watch the tape, the more you see plays like this. Look at this catch against Texas A&M. Almost exactly the same. He collects the ball falling backwards into double coverage:

It’s almost like his signature move. “Here’s Coates — it looks like he’s going for the ‘stands still and catches it falling backwards between two defenders move’ — HE IS! HE GOT IT! SAMMIE COATES WINS THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP!”

In the Iron Bowl he made yet another of these plays right before half time to set up a last gasp field goal. It’s quite incredible:

Maybe he goes to the NFL and just continues to make plays this way? Who knows? I suspect, however, that it’s one of the first things he’ll need to work on. If you can track the football in the air, if you have leverage over the defensive back — just go up and get the football. Don’t wait for it to come to you. We know he can do it:

Because Coates’ biggest strength is also a major area for improvement, it’s hard to judge him as a prospect. There’s no tape of him working in the short passing game. There’s no tape of him making explosive special teams plays. There’s no tape of him running after the catch or being utilized via screens. As good an athlete as he is with so much potential — he might just be a great athlete. He might not be a good football player.

That’s the great conundrum here. If you’re able to get him some plays as a rookie and find a role — then work with him over time — you could be left with one of the more exciting players in the league. Or you could be left with a SPARQ champion who is no use at all.

The Seahawks love their difference making athletes — but they’re not daft. They don’t just look at a list of times and measurements. Bruce Irvin was the best pass rusher in college football during the 2010 season at West Virginia. He followed it up with another good year in 2011. Christine Michael had plenty of production before falling out with the coaches at Texas A&M. Paul Richardson had 1343 yards at Colorado last year and ten touchdowns.

Coates’ best production came last season — a 902-yard, seven touchdown campaign. This included four +100-yard outings but also two games with less than 20-yards (vs Ole Miss & Tennessee). He ticks a lot of boxes in terms of raw potential and athleticism. But is he a good enough football player to warrant early consideration?

That’s the question we’ll be asking if he does indeed declare for the draft.


  1. Radman

    Nice write up.

    No doubt he has the athletic tools. Reminds me of Joey Galloway a bit, actually.

    I do wonder if the Hawks are looking for more polish at WR these days than raw physical talent than at other positions. Of course, Percy wasn’t all that polished as a WR, so that might point to another approach. But Richardson and Norwood are both pretty polished and refined WRs for their career stage. Leave the play making to RW, let the WRs run routes and read defenses kind of approach. Who knows.

    That 6’3″ DB for LSU sure looks interesting….an underclassman. I’ll make a note of that guy.

  2. CC

    Great write up as always Rob!

    He is a fantastic athlete – but is he a bit taller, thicker version of PRich? PRich has the speed, is a good route runner, can highpoint the ball – Coates has all the SPARQ stuff, but he’s not going to be the guy. Norwood and PRich could be Coates combined.

    We’re still missing Sidney Rice – Chris Matthews has been kept around – so I think they know it is a need to get the taller WR.

    I still think we’ll look at that taller WR in the mid rounds. I’ll be watching Waller in the combine…

  3. Brad B

    How about Ty Montgomery? He seems like a guy who would fit in well with the other WR’s we got. It seems like he’s a smart guy with great athleticism. I could see John and Pete falling in love with after an interview. What are your thoughts?

    • Rob Staton

      I’ve seen him have good and bad games. I want to study him more. Going into the year he was one of the players I really wanted to watch but as Stanford kept losing, they never seemed to be on the TV over here. He didn’t play in the UCLA game that I did see. I’ll have another look.

    • Volume 12

      Montgomery is a Sammie type of athlete. He is very intriguing. Your right he is a high character kid with swagger as well. He takes the jet sweeps, the bubble screens, etc. He could be that bigger version of what they thought Percy was going to be. Sometimes as a fan you forget about Montgomery, because he has a tendency to disappear. Could of been Stanford didn’t really know how to get an athlete like him involved more. Good eye Brad, definitely though provoking. Just my meaningless 2 cents.

    • Tim

      Stanford is my team, so I’ve seen Montgomery since he’s been a freshman. It would be somewhat disappointing if we picked him, honestly. Loads of athletic potential, but he never felt like a big play possibility (outside of punt and kick returns). Not a great catcher of the ball, didn’t run great routes. That’s why we did so many screens and reverses – that was a better way to get the ball in his hands. Maybe it’s the quarterback, but we took plenty of deep shots to our other receivers Rector and Cajuste.

      Late in the year there was some talk that we should’ve made him a running back instead of a receiver, even. I think Stanford made a big effort to feed him the ball, but I didn’t see enough out of him to think he will be more than a role player.

    • Tim

      All that said, he is a very willing blocker and he’s physical with the ball in his hands. He’s a Seahawks player in this respect.

  4. Cysco

    The kid seems like a really solid dude. He and Russ would probably hit it off really well. That said, I don’t see that special something in his tape. Watching tape on Evans, Beckham Jr, Bryant, Bitonio, etc. last year you could just tell they were going to be good. I don’t see that in Coates. I just can’t see the Hawks going for someone who hasn’t demonstrated the production.

    Shame, because he appears to be such good guy.

  5. AU Hawk

    I’m a lifelong AU fan and have watched all the games. Don’t sweat his “disappearing” games. AU is a run first (and second and sometimes third) team. The receivers only get a few chances per game and asked to make big plays when the opportunities arrive. They are also asked to block a lot. Sound familiar Hawk fans? I’ll let JS and PC worry about the mix of we talent, but he definitely would fit in with the Hawks style.

    • CC

      Thanks AU – good to know that he’s used to blocking.

  6. rowdy

    I don’t see anything special in him or williams both seem to be body catchers. I would pick DGB over both with the off field problems. I’d you combined both players you have a faster Kearse that doesn’t high point as well. Although I seen a lot of Kearse and a little of both.

    • Volume 12

      I agree Rob. This kid is the definition of SPARQ. May be the best athlete in the past few drafts. To me some people seem like they expect this 6’4 or 6’5 wr who high points every pass to fall into our lap or we take them mid rounds and develop them. Isn’t that what we’re doing with P-Rich and Norwood? And just because guys are the same height and or weight doesn’t mean they’re the same player. Lynch, Turbo, and C-Mike all have similar size, yet I’d say we would all agree they are NOT the same player. DGB may be available, but he’s a complete dumpster fire plus add to the fact he can’t run a route to save his life and struggles to get off the press. I’ve said Goodley is my favorite wr, actually my favorite ‘senior’ wr, but only in the mid rounds. This kid screams ‘seahawk’ he is raw and full of potential, something we know Seattle likes and you have to love his connection with the little girl with cancer, and he always has a smile on his face.

      CC makes a good point though. Is he similar to P-Rich, albeit bigger? And I just wonder if he has that… ‘chip on shoulder’ mentality? I will say this: You can’t teach size, speed, or athleticism. Duke is 1a for me and Sammie 1b, if they declare. Yes please to 1 of the Auburn wr’s as our first rd. Draft pick.

    • Volume 12

      ‘Special’ as in Sammie’s athleticism and speed? Or Duke’s competitiveness/toughness and ability to go get it?

      • rowdy

        For all Sammie ‘ s speed he doesn’t seem to burn like prich did but my biggest problem is the drops and disappearing from games. I only seen the film rob posted on williams but I wasn’t 1st rd impressed by it, can’t find any film on him either. Rob said williams showed more as the season went on and he got healthier, witch would change tthings. I like williams just want to see more from him. Vince mayle is a guy I like to but I seen more of him. DGB is a project but I don’t see a rookie wr playing a big roll either year one. His potential is definitely rd one worthy though

        • Chris

          Without reading he was a 4.25 guy I would’ve never guessed it from his play.

          DBs didn’t seem to have any problem keeping with him whatsoever.

    • Rob Staton

      Williams body catches sometimes, but he’s also shown a fantastic ability to pluck the ball out of the air.

  7. Dumbquestions

    OK – I’ve got a crazy idea, and I want to see if Rob can construct a scenario where it’s possible.

    He keeps saying the big need (sooner or later) is running back – the replacement for Beast, who may or may not go, but we all know he’ll be gone eventually (sniff). Lynch is unique, integral to the team’s identity, etc. So the RB future must be considered, and it can’t be just any running back. Maybe Todd Gurley and his torn knee could be a redshirt option at the late end of the 1st round, but that might not be possible with Melvin Gordon. So who’s left?

    How about drafting Shaq Thompson as a running back? I know the sample size is small – but when I look at him compared to Gurley and Gordon, Thompson looks better. He’s bigger than both of them. He kinda reminds me of Lynch. He’s got some YAC thunder and breakaway speed. He even catches the ball.

    I know, I know – he’s a stud on the defensive side, and that might be his best value. But how do you look at his game against Colorado and not think about the other option? Is it possible that he’s a generational talent on offense?

    Rob’s mock has Thompson going at 17 to Cleveland (presumably as a defender). I’m just wondering what kind of deal it would take for the Hawks to move up those 10 or 15 spots on the board…

  8. EranUngar

    OK, i’ll say it again. You’ll do a lot better if you add a non WR pick to your first/second round picks. They will not go WR up high. The Richardson pick told us that they do not see the big target as the ring that rules them all.

    I see PRich and Norwood improving from game to game. Their routes becomes sharper and smarter.

    I think the goal is spread the ball around. 4 top pedestrians (Baldwin, Kearse, PRich and Norwood) provide the Hawks with the advantage they want. It’s not the “my no. 1 WR can beat your no. 1 CB” advantage. It’s the “my no. 3-4 WR will beat your 3rd CB or safety”

    I think they will probably go DE unless some other great BPA value is there. It won’t be a WR.

    i’ll keep saying it and we’ll see on draft day.

    • Rob Staton

      “The Richardson pick told us that they do not see the big target as the ring that rules them all.”

      And I think it’s fair to say that they have since discovered they actually do need a big target. Which is why they asked about Vincent Jackson, Julius Thomas, Jordan Cameron and Coby Fleener. In fact I’m sure I read a media report, possibly from Ian Rapoport, suggesting the Seahawks felt they could target the perimeter in the passing game with shorter, speedier receivers and that they’d now decided they definitely needed a big target.

      That doesn’t mean they’ll go receiver in first round. I’m not married to the idea. But you know as much as I do. We simply don’t know. If value matches need in round one and it’s a big target, they’re not going to avoid it or the sake of it.

    • Volume 12

      Eran, we’re not saying Seattle is locked into a wr as their first round pick. What me, Rob, and other proponents of this type of pick are saying, I think, is IF Seattle does go wr in the 1st then the 2 Auburn wr’s seem to be the best fits from a schematic standpoint and the type of personnel they like.

      The goal IS to spread the ball around, your right. So why wouldn’t you add one more guy to spread it around too? They will take a wr at some point, whether in the draft or FA. They thought Percy would suffice enough to replace Tate and we’re also down Sidney too, which may be why they didn’t take a big wideout. Maybe him retiring was somewhat unexpected?

      I do agree with you on the De-Leo position however. They must add another edge rusher, regardless if they re-sign Avril or not.

  9. seahawks509

    I personally like Duke Williams, but Coates isn’t bad either. I think this year has some solid WRs. Some think it’s a bust, but TBH any class would have trouble comparing with the class be have just had.

    I remember reading you weren’t a fan of Jalen Strong? I really like him. Seems very raw but has some really nice qualities.

    • Rob Staton

      Yeah not a fan of Strong personally. Just don’t see anything special. I think he could forge a Terrance Williams type role on a team with a high-octane passing game. But I didn’t really like Williams either.

  10. Jim Q

    Interesting comparison of WR’s Davante Parker (Louisville) & Davante Davis (UNLV) by Matt Waldman in his RSP series of film study. It’s long, but very informative and the results I think are pretty obvious, Davante Davis still needs a little development but has a decent shot of being at least as good as or better than Parker. Draft value of a 1-st round pick vs: a mid-round pick (Rd.-3 or 4?) for Davis, makes Davis an exceptional value. Davis career stats: 2011-2014: 186/2817/22-td’s, 15.14/ypc.

  11. dave crockett

    I will be quite interested to see how Malzahn’s skill position guys transition to the NFL. I have my doubts about what Coates can be. It is VERY hard to learn to play the position in the pros. I wonder if Coates’ upside is as the next Alvin Harper.

  12. bigDhawk

    We already have an uber-athlete with questionable receiving skills in Ricardo Lockette, and at least he is a ST stud.

    • Rob Staton

      Lockette’s also 29 in May and a free agent in the off-season.

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