X's & O's: Breaking Down Cleveland Browns Wide Receiver Corey Coleman

Surprising draft pundits and media members alike (but not OBR Insiders), the Cleveland Browns selected wide receiver Corey Coleman with the 15th overall pick in the 2016 NLF Draft. After failing to address the wide receiver position via the first round in over a decade, the Browns are optimistic that the first pick of the Hue Jackson era will provide the explosive pass-game threat the offense has lacked since Josh Gordon’s breakout 2013 season. In anticipation that Coleman will be penciled in as

In hindsight it is easy to see why the team addressed the offense with their first pick. Second-time head coach Hue Jackson made no effort to hide his evaluation of the Browns’ roster saying, "We need to become more dynamic on offense.”

He went on to add "This guy can score in a number of different ways -- by catching it, by running it. He has tremendous ability. He's probably one of the most dynamic players in this draft on offense, arguably."

Coleman's stats back up Jackson’s comments, hauling in 74 pass for 1,363 yards (18.4 yards per catch) and an FBS-leading 20 touchdown receptions in 2015. Coleman was a catching machine in Baylor’s spread, hurry-up offense, recording five or more receptions ten times and leading the nation in YAC (yards after catch) at over 4 yards per reception. With comparisons to Percy Harvin and Steve Smith, the Biletnikoff award-winner clearly enters the league with lofty expectations. 

Coleman was arguably the most explosive player in college during the 2015 season, demonstrating superior burst and acceleration off the line of scrimmage. He utilized above-average footwork and hands to create free releases against press coverage and was a legitimate threat to break a long gain at any moment due to outstanding COD (change of direction) skills. His mentality, physicality, and ultra-competiveness will be a welcome addition to a Browns' team seemingly bullied week-in-and-out by division rivals.

Before projecting how Baylor’s career touchdown leader might fit in Hue Jackson’s offense, let’s breakdown the film to analyze Coleman’s strengths and weaknesses as a player.

Coleman possesses world class burst and acceleration off the line of scrimmage, using his explosiveness to catch defensive backs off-guard and preventing defenders from ‘walling’ off routes from the slot. His measurable back up what the tape shows, running a 4.37 40-yard dash and registering a 40.5-inch vertical jump.

In our first example we see a cornerback attempt to disguise press coverage by initially showing depth, before approaching the line of scrimmage just before the snap.  Focus on the bottom of the clip.

The cornerback is completely unprepared for Coleman’s ‘get off’ at the line of scrimmage. Because Coleman’s explosion and burst brings him to the corner’s depth so quickly, the defender’s technique breaks down completely. The cornerback should maintain a power base by keeping his eyes and nose over his toes, using short lateral steps to mirror the receiver’s release, and a hard two-handed punch to the chest plate.

Instead we see flat feet with no lateral movement, the helmet and shoulders well over the toes (raising the center of gravity and reducing balance), and a weak jam attempt that Coleman easily side-steps.

Baylor took advantage of the dynamic receiver’s versatility by utilizing him in multiple alignments, including twins, trips, bunches, the backside of 3X1 formations, and even the tailback position over the course of 2015 season. Our next example illustrates Coleman’s ability to avoid a seam reroute while running the smash/fade concept from the slot.

Facing third and ten early in the first quarter of Baylor’s 45-27 victory over the Iowa State Cyclones, the offense catches the defense off balance with a vertical shot targeting Coleman on a slot defender. The Cyclones are in a Cover 4 shell (also known as quarters), matching up Coleman with a deep ¼ safety.

The curl/flat defender (located just above the right hash) must open his hips to the sideline and reroute any offensive players running down the seam in order to protect the deep safety, who will read the wide receiver’s release in order to determine the route he is running. After walling off any threats the defender will continue shuffling to the sideline at a 45 degree angle, looking to jump any underneath routes.

Let’s see how the Cyclones’ curl/flat defender does against Coleman’s fade route.

The burst and play action leave the linebacker unable to protect the seam, allowing a free release (another cardinal sin) and forcing the safety to turn and run with Coleman at full speed. We can see the linebacker attempt to get hands on Coleman, but he is simply too slow to execute his assignment. The field (wide-side) safety does a good job staying on Coleman’s inside hip, forcing him to make an acrobatic catch on a slightly underthrown ball.

Coleman is particularly dangerous facing man-press coverage, combining outstanding footwork and hand usage to force ill-timed lunges by cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage. Used in conjunction with his lateral speed the talented pass-catcher will be a nightmare to cover in press-man, both outside the numbers and in the slot.  

Coleman scored three touchdowns in Baylor’s 2015 62-38 victory over West Virginia, with the first coming on a beautiful slant route from the 2-yard line. Facing a rolled-up cornerback Coleman avoids the jam using a simple out-in release and swim move for an easy six points.

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Let’s start with the footwork. Coleman should be hip-to-hip (known as stacking) with the defender in four steps. He will take his first step with the inside foot, bringing his feet parallel. He will then step outside, pushing off the inside foot while using a shoulder shake to fake the defender into opening away from the route’s direction. The third step from the outside foot will cross the defender’s face while the fourth step should put Coleman even with or ahead of the defender’s hip.

Coleman’s hand technique is equally impressive. The swim move is executed on the third step (the step that brings Coleman back across the defender’ face) with blinding speed, leaving the cornerback to lunge at empty space. The swim move is executed by pulling or clubbing the defender’s inside arm while swiping the other arm over the defender’s helmet/shoulder.

This is an NFL-caliber route, a positive sign for a receiver coming from a limited college route tree.

Later in the game Coleman used a similar move to escape press coverage on the way to his second touchdown of the day.

On first down just outside the ten-yard line, Coleman is aligned to the backside of a stack formation in the boundary (short-side of the field). Baylor is running an isolation route to Coleman here, a perfect call against West Virginia’s Cover 0 (no deep safety help). If Coleman can beat his man at the line of scrimmage and the quarterback can make the throw, this should be another easy six points.

Coleman utilizes an in-out release to open up the cornerbacks hips, then uses a rip move in which he clubs with his outside arm while violently ripping his inside arm up and through the defender’s body. The defender fails to read Coleman’s hips, biting on the initial inside move and lunging to create instant separation.

Our final example shows Coleman exploiting the defenses’ fear of a goal line slant route by faking inside before cutting back to a corner fade. The defender’s technique is to align with inside leverage in order to cut off the slant route, while trusting his reactions to play the fade.

Coleman executes a simple ‘sluggo’ (slant and go) route to create room for the throw. The defender does a good job reacting to the fade route and the ball is underthrown, but Coleman does an outstanding job making a contested catch for another six points.

In addition to his outstanding technique at the line of scrimmage, the first team All-American is a potent weapon with the ball in his hands due to elite COD skill. Coleman’s open-field moves and vision make him a threat to take a short reception long every time he touches the ball.

Returning to Baylor’s 2015 matchup with West Virginia, we see Coleman’s COD on display as he takes a slant route to the house with a beautiful open-field cut on his defender.

The defender does him-self no favors here due to poor alignment and technique. He has put himself in no man’s land by lining up roughly four yards off Coleman at the line of scrimmage. The proper alignment is to either move up to the line of scrimmage to press Coleman or move back to seven yards in order to play a flat-foot read technique. Backpedaling from four yards serves no purpose as Coleman’s burst will quickly break the cushion, forcing the defender to open his hips and run with the burner.

After viewing the clip it is easy to see why the defender’s depth affects his ability to make a play on the ball. The initial alignment and backpedal causes the defender to take a poor angle to the ball, allowing Coleman to easily cut across his face and accelerate to the end zone on the way to a 34-yard touchdown.

Even a simple hitch route can turn into a highlight-reel play when a player of Coleman’s caliber gets space in the open field. Watch what happens when Baylor attacks an ill-timed cornerback blitz from Coleman’s side of the field.

 While his vertical route running still needs work (he allows cornerbacks to pin him to the sidelines on go routes too often), Coleman is a threat to take the top of a defense at any moment. He is particularly deadly on play action concepts, being the recipient of several targeted downfield shots every game as Baylor’s offense looked to leverage their outstanding running attack (326.7 yards per game).

In both clips we see Coleman easily eat up an eight-yard cushion on his way to long touchdowns. This skill will be deadly to opposing defenses, as Hue Jackson will take targeted shots downfield after establishing his patented running game.

The final piece of the Corey Coleman skill set is his competiveness and desire to win. While Coleman does not possess the prototypical size the NFL looks for in a franchise receiver, his new team believes his skill set will transcend height and weight measurements (5-foot-11 and 194-pounds).

Browns’ head of football operations Sashi Brown said of Coleman, "He plays above his size."

Coleman wholeheartedly agrees with his new teams’ assessment. When asked about his size during a draft-night interview Coleman put it best, saying “If size mattered elephants would be the king of the jungle.”

On a team that has been the division whipping boy since its reincarnation, a bully of its’ own will be a welcome addition.

While Coleman’s explosive qualities and college production should allow him to impact the offense early and often, he has some work to do in order to become a complete wide receiver.

While he does not conjure images of Greg Little, Coleman has drop issues that must be addressed. Coleman registered a 12.2% drop rate in 2015, recording ten dropped passes on 72 receptions. He has a tendency to catch the ball with his body rather, than plucking it out of the air with his hands. The tape shows several examples of Coleman missing easy catches and leaving behind potential YAC with little or no coverage. As Browns’ fans know all too well, drops become drive killers, a fatal flaw in an already limited offense.

Rather than plucking the ball out of his hands, watch Coleman attempt to secure the ball with his body. With no deep safety this is a likely six points if Coleman makes the catch. Expect the rookie to spend quality time with the Jugs machine this summer.

The second and third major questions about Coleman’s game are linked to the route tree he ran at Baylor.

Coleman runs inconsistent short-game routes (particularly hitches), a Baylor-offense staple. Oftentimes Coleman will simply turn around, rather than executing a sharp break to create separation (he may be coached to do this based on Baylor’s use of spacing concepts like all-hitches). In addition, Coleman does not consistently work back to the ball (again this could be coaching), a college sin that will lead to pass breakups in the pros.

Calling these routes lackadaisical is generous. Rather than sinking his hips, getting his head over his feet, chopping, and exploding out of his cut back towards the quarterback, Coleman tends to turn and wait. He must become more aggressive, attacking the ball in the air to prevent defenders from coming through his back to make a play on the ball. He can get away with this technique (again he may be coached to run the route this way) facing college defensive backs in off-coverage, but NFL defenders will break up these passes with ease.

Finally, Coleman’s route tree was extremely limited in college. According to PFF 89% of Coleman’s routes consisted of hitches, nines/fades, slants, and wide receiver screens. While Coleman can only run what he is asked to run, he will need to expand his route tree considerably in order to develop into a complete receiver. With that said, Hue Jackson does not see an issue with Coleman’s lack of experience running a traditional NFL route tree.

"There will be an adjustment period for him, but at the same time, I truly feel like we have one of the best wide receiver coaches in pro football in (senior offensive assistant/wide receivers coach) Al Saunders, who spent some time with him. We'll create the right environment for Corey to get up to speed as fast as he can, and obviously, he's demonstrated the ability to run some of the routes that we have in our tree.”

In Part II we will look at how Hue Jackson might leverage Corey Coleman’s skill set in his offense.


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