After pre-draft and in-draft wheeling and dealing that saw the Cleveland Browns go from the No. 2 pick in the first round to No. 8 and then down to No. 15, the team finally made their first selection of the 2016 NFL Draft, spending it on Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman. Coleman, the 2015 winner of the Fred Biletnikoff Award, given to the NCAA’s top receiver, adds a speedy, playmaking component that Cleveland’s receiving corps needed and head coach Hue Jackson coveted.
Coleman, even though he doesn’t have the size many wanted in a new Browns receiver, can certainly be a game-changer. In seven games last year, he surpassed 100 receiving yards and had 20 receiving touchdowns—interestingly enough, the same number of total passing touchdowns for the Browns in 2015—and has also worked effectively as a returner. There’s no doubt there are receivers presently on Cleveland’s roster who will be edged off the team because of Coleman’s presence.
Coleman has much in common with Travis Benjamin, the 2012 fourth-round draft pick who had a breakout season in 2015 before leaving in free agency. The speed component is certainly similar, as is the ability to return punts or kicks. But Coleman has traits that Benjamin didn’t have and that make him instantly in the discussion to be Cleveland’s top receiver in 2016 (save for maybe tight end Gary Barnidge). His after-catch skills may be unrivaled in this year’s draft class and where he may be raw as a complete route-runner he makes up for in the ability to still make plays all over the field, and he has impressive vertical leaping abilities.
On a physical comparison level, the first receiver who may be threatened by Coleman’s presence is Marlon Moore. Moore is under an inch taller than Coleman and four pounds lighter, but was also used marginally in Cleveland as a receiver—something that won’t be the case with Coleman. Moore had just seven catches on 10 targets in 2015, for 81 yards and a score and he returned three kickoffs for 77 yards. With a salary cap hit of just $133,334 in dead money, Moore now becomes far more expendable than he was on Thursday morning, before the Browns made their selection. The things the Browns sort-of wanted out of Moore are things they absolutely want from Coleman.
The recently-signed Saalim Hakim could also be forced to the roster bubble, but the player to keep the closest eye on outside of Moore is Taylor Gabriel. Though a fan favorite after coming aboard as an undrafted player in 2014, his usage declined in 2015. In his first season, he caught 36 passes (on 72 targets, not a good catch rate) for 621 yards and a score; last year, he caught only 28 passes on 48 targets for 241. He’s also one of a number of smaller receivers on Cleveland’s roster, at 5’8” (he’s joined by Andrew Hawkins at 5’7” and Darius Jennings at 5’10”) and it’s likely that the new Browns regime doesn’t want such a completely undersized unit. Nor are the Browns likely to keep nine receivers on the 53-man roster in September and especially not if another higher pick is spent on a receiver on Friday. Hawkins’ job isn’t safe, either, depending on how interested the Browns are in using Coleman in the slot on a semi-regular basis.
Any player drafted at any position—especially in Round 1—can often force a counterpart off the roster. Coleman’s presence in Cleveland is sure to do just that, whether that happens swiftly or after the team can get together for on-field practices. Nervousness should abound for all of Cleveland receivers at this point. Financially speaking, any currently signed have negligible-to-no dead money charges. And from a talent perspective, it’s not likely any other receiver on the roster (save, maybe, Brian Hartline simply from an experience standpoint) can beat out Coleman.