Sammie Coates has been compared to Bryant by two of the top draft experts, Lance Zierlein and Nolan Nawrocki. And the Steelers taking the tall, enigmatic deep threat in the third round Friday night brings that comparison to Bryant even closer.
Does Coates have a Rookie of the Year in him?
"We got a guy that needs some work but is a great athlete," said Steelers receivers coach Richard Mann. "He has some problems straight ahead catching a football, but that's why we have drills. With a chance to coach him up, we feel we can make that better."
Coates, 6-1 3/8, 212, caught 34 passes for 741 yards and four touchdowns last season. Except for an abnormally high 19.1 percent drop rate (per NFL.com), Coates would've probably gained 1,000 yards receiving.
"They didn't play him every down, a lot of personnel groupings," Mann explained. "What happens is he disappears. He's back in there. He disappears. He's back in there. A lot of times, in my opinion, players have a tendency to lose concentration simply because they weren't involved and then you bring them back in the heat of battle. That's not an excuse for him. That's what I saw. I've been around a lot of players, If you're not using them, they lose focus. I think that might have been some of it."
Coates is a raw route runner but he does two things well: catches deep balls and runs hard after catching short balls.
As for taking a screen pass and heading up the field, Mann said that Coates "will put his pads down and run with good pad level. A lot of guys won't do that. We've seen him do it so we know he has it in him."
After Coates completed his fourth season at Auburn and graduated with a degree in public administration, the Leroy, Ala., native played in the Senior Bowl, and at the Combine ran a 4.42 40, benched a position-best 23 reps, had a 41-inch vertical jump, and posted outstanding agility times of 4.06 (short shuttle) and 6.98 (3-cone). He was a second-team All-SEC and had his best game against Alabama with five catches for 206 yards and two touchdowns.
"I left a lot of plays on the field," Coates said. "I dropped one in the end zone that should have been a touchdown. I was really ticked about that."
But in averaging 40.1 yards per each of the catches he did make, Coates more than made up for the drop.
And that's the enigma the Steelers just brought on board.
Is he similar to Bryant?
"In a lot of ways," said Mann. "I saw Martavis do a little bit more underneath. They didn't really use (Coates) that way down at Auburn. (But) I think that he's probably played a little bit more than Martavis had."
With Bryant moving up in status with the Steelers this season, Coates now becomes the rookie project. So, Mann will shoot for back-to-back successes in that department.
"We've just got to work with him a little bit and make sure that we give him confidence and that we drill him up," Mann said. "We will put him in spots that he can
excel. We won't put him in spots that he won't do well."