Reception Perception: Sammie Coates Falls Along a Dangerous Archetype

Matt Harmon uses his Reception Perception methodology to invesitigate every corner of Sammie Coates' game.

 

During the season here at Footballguys, I profiled receivers using my Reception Perception methodology. Now, that is officially draft season, we’ll turn our focus to the incoming rookies. In anticipation of the release of the 2015 Reception Perception Project, and the NFL Draft, I’ll be releasing prospect profiles using the Reception Perception methodology. In this edition, we’ll study the impressive physical specimen that is Sammie Coates.

Scouting wide receivers can be both such a delightful, but tricky endeavor. Spotting traits on film that tell the story of how a player can evolve from a playmaking college athlete, to a professional player, is both an exciting and gratifying experience. At the same time, watching a prospect that makes plays at the college level, and theoretically carries an NFL profile, yet does not display translatable traits, can be just as troubling as the former is exciting. If the evaluator is good at their craft, this makes them ask a number of questions—about their approach, process, and everything in between. 

Athletic wide receivers can often send evaluators down through this whirlwind experience.  If a pass catcher carries the build and athletic attributes, particularly if they publicly demonstrate them at the NFL Scouting Combine, they deserve pro consideration. The trouble comes when you turn on the tape and you see what is akin to a robot functioning in the midst of inferior beings. Much like the robot, an ultra athletic receiver possesses a number of qualities that make them superior to the run of the mill player at their position. However, a robot cannot perform many of the functions that make humanity such a beautiful, and unique species. In the same vain, if a receiver is just an athlete that doesn’t possess a baseline acceptable level of technical prowess, he’ll struggle to ever reach his full potential. The physically talented but technically deficient, wide receiver is proven to be a dangerous archetype for NFL teams to invest in.

One of the 2015 NFL Draft prospect examples in the linked article was Auburn’s Sammie Coates. A dynamic athlete who brought his flair to the field; Coates averaged over 20 yards per catch in his career. There were rumors that he timed in the 4.1 ranges at some points in his college career. His times at the NFL Scouting Combine were a shade or two below that lofty standard, but still showed an exciting size/speed combination. The trouble with Coates is, despite some statistical success in a run heavy offense, there are serious inconsistencies in his game, both as a college player, and a potential pro projection. 

Evaluators must ask themselves if there is enough evidence on tape to feel comfortable about slotting Sammie Coates somewhere on an NFL field. Does his athleticism show up enough for him to be a regular deep threat in an offense? Are there flashes that lead you to believe he can, perhaps down the line, develop into a down-to-down contributor at the next level? These are questions that scouts face when evaluating Coates, and queries that Reception Perception can present quantifiable answers to.

Disclaimer: usually a full season profile of Reception Perception works through eight games of a receiver. Unfortunately, with the scarcity of all-22 footage available on college prospects, that was not possible. For the purposes of this profile, we’ll be working strictly off Sammie Coates’ 2014 games against Ole Miss and Alabama. 

Alignment Data

Sammie Coates’ alignment data is pretty straightforward. He took 95.3% of his snaps on the outside right or left side of the field, and was fixed on the line of scrimmage 93.7% of the time. Coates clearly played the X-receiver role for the Tigers. In many ways, this position fits with his stature of 6’1 and 212 pounds.

Its worth considering whether Auburn truly maximized Coates’ potential, given their predictable deployment of him. Yet, that is mostly due to their offensive design. Gus Malzahn run about the farthest thing from a pro-style offense imaginable. His system is predicated on a run heavy attack, supplemented with a mobile quarterback. There are a number of read option principles, with a running back frequently motioning into the backfield from the slot receiver position. While it’s a highly successful college offense, there is not much room leftover for a big outside receiver, such as Sammie Coates. He does not get to move around the formation much, and primarily sticks to his one role.

At Auburn, Coates’ assignment was to play the X-position, while using his speed to both create big plays, and to stretch the defense vertically. He was almost more valuable for his mere presence to open things up for the ground game, as he was a pass catching threat.

Target Data 

While his raw stats don’t speak to a highly involved player—never recorded 50 catches in a season—Sammie Coates’ Reception Perception data tells a different story. Over this two-game sample, Coates ran 48 routes, and was targeted on 33.3% of them. That speaks to a high level of involvement in his passing offense, and it’s the second highest figure of the prospects charted for Reception Perception. To date, only Amari Cooper has posted a higher target per route rate, coming in at 43%. 

The purpose of this measurement is to more accurately quantify a player’s target level, relative to their role. Sammie Coates may not have posted outstanding production, or been fed the same number of targets as some of the top receiver prospects. However, when he ran a qualifying pass route, getting the ball in Coates’ hands was a priority for the Auburn offense. What he did with those chances was something of a mixed bag.

Sammie Coates’ catch rate, both on a per route and target basis, were slightly troubling. Of all four-receiver prospects charted to date for Reception Perception, Coates had the lowest “percent of targets with a catch” rate. The other frontline deep threat in this class, Devin Smith, bested Coates with a 64.7% catch rate. Even so, that figure is not too terribly disappointing. Most of the Reception Perception catch per target rates deemed “poor” fall in the 50-percent range. Coates does slot in ahead of that standard. He certainly did not have the best on-field relationship with his quarterback, and that may have played a part in lowering his rate. There were times when Coates looked like he did not trust Nick Marshall’s ability to get the deep ball to him, and he would slow up, falsely making passes look like overthrows. Despite his heavy involvement with the Auburn passing game, its did not appear as if Coates was always in tune with his teammates, particularly his quarterback.

Even more troubling is what took place on a small segment of Sammie Coates’ targets. Weeks ago, Reception Perception incited a small bit of hand wringing over Amari Cooper’s drop rate of 11.4%. If that bothered readers, Coates’ drop rate of 18.8% should absolutely alarm them. While it’s over a smaller sample size than Cooper’s, and the eight-game sample used to chart NFL receivers, that drop rate is unacceptable. It also reflects major technical issues in Coates’ game. Not only does he appear to have communication issues with his quarterback, Coates has his fair share of trouble syncing his hands together. He struggles to track the ball while maintaining proper positioning with his hands. Those are mostly on deep passes, but focus drops also creep up on tape. Routine catches can be very difficult for Coates. 

There is plenty of debate about how drop rates carry over into the NFL, or whether they are that big of a concern. Of course, everyone has his or her opinion. However, there are plenty of player specific pieces of evidence to suggest drops, of all kinds, are hard to iron out of a player’s game. Coates struggles in maintaining consistent focus or technique on typical plays that occur on a routine basis. Those maladies can be fixed with good coaching and a perfect situation, although those are hard to attain. Yet, much more concerning, are Coates’ drops and mishaps in the difficult, and contested situations. 

Contested Catch Conversion Rate

In the last Reception Perception study, we concluded Devin Smith was an excellent deep game artist, who translated easily to the pros. That conclusion was made, in part, due to his outrageous 100% contested catch conversion rate on six attempts over a five game sample size. While Sammie Coates seems as if he should have similar deep game prowess, due to his physical attributes, his contested catch conversion rate is far less inspiring:

 

Coates went up for seven catches in a contested situation, but was only successful on 42.9% of them. He’s the only draft prospect profiled for Reception Perception, so far, that posted a contested catch conversion rate below 50%.

Coates absolutely looks the part of a receiver who should dominate at the catch point. He’s rocked up, and recorded a 41” vertical at the combine. Unfortunately, he doesn’t weave all the aspects of winning the ball in the air together on anything resembling a consistent basis.

We’ve already examined Coates’ hand technique issues, and how they’re often not in sync. Those problems are only magnified in contested situations. One of the more underrated aspects of winning the ball in the air is timing when to throw you hands up. Too early, and the defender has better chance to interfere with the act of the reception. Too late, and the pass is likely at a more difficult angle to corral. Either way, a lack of timing takes the advantage away from the receiver in contested situations. Coates is far off course from mastering timing his hands.

Another issue for Coates is getting enough height in his jumps, and extension with his hands. Despite being a player with a strong vertical, and imposing physique, his implementation of both is strikingly inconsistent. There are times when a lesser athlete at cornerback is able to get to the ball by out-leaping Coates. In some instances, he fails to fully extend his arms to catch a pass outside of his frame, and even when he does, there’s a decent chance the pass will clank off his mitts, anyway. For a player of his talent level, there’s no reason he should be outdone at the catch point as often as he is.

It would be incorrect to say Sammie Coates has no ability at the catch point. Anyone who has seen a highlight tape of his can plainly observe he’s made some dazzling plays of this regard. However, as displayed by his Reception Perception data, he carries major inconsistencies winning contested catches. This should cause debates for teams interested in drafting him. He’s technically raw as an underneath and intermediate player, so most of his value will have to come on his downfield ability. It’s going to be tough to trust him to make good on those if he’s deficient in the contested catch department.

Route Analysis and Success Rate Versus Coverage Data

For most of this portion of Sammie Coates’ Reception Perception study, we’ll continue to compare his data to Devin Smith’s from the last edition. Both are regarded as two of the better deep threats in this class, and also players who have a limited sample size of pass catching tape, due to their play in run heavy offenses. As such, its fair to compare their skills as prospects. It would be helpful, for context’s sake to refer to that piece periodically.

In Devin Smith’s profile, we noted that his running nine-routes on 28.4% of his charted patterns made his chart rather unbalanced. If that is the case, then Coates’ 45.8% figure makes his chart look like a seesaw with an overweight individual on one side. Even over a small sample size, such a high frequency rate dedicated to one route is rather unpredicted in Reception Perception’s time. Part of Coates’ overuse on vertical routes is a function of Auburn’s designated role for him. He was there to stretch the field, first and foremost. It’s still important to remember that he was a limited player in college, regardless of his team’s utilization of him.

Other than the nine-route, only three other patterns came in over 10%, the comeback, curl and slant. Mike Wallace, one of the true deep threats in the NFL today, also saw those three routes being the vast majority of what supplemented his vertical routes. Devin Smith also had a high percentage attached to his curl routes. It makes sense for a speedy receiver to be used on curls and comebacks. The defense is often giving them a significant amount of cushion, for fear of them going over the top, that when they break on routes to face the quarterback, they already have ample separation.

Just don’t discount the obvious. Sammie Coates is a raw route runner. His being asked to run a single a nine on 45.8% of his routes is startling, and it’s a phenomenon that extrapolates to other games outside of this sample. His college years did little to nothing in teaching him how to run pro routes on a consistent basis, and that reflects in his ability to separate:

(SRVC denotes success rate versus coverage for each route. PTS indicates how many PPR fantasy points a receiver earned on each particular route)

Remember, nearly half of the routes Sammie Coates ran over this two-game sample were nine-routes. With that in mind, its very disturbing that he was only able to maintain a SRVC score of 45.5%. Of course, the nine-route is the hardest pattern on which to earn a high SRVC figure. For NFL receivers, a score in the 50 or 60-percent range paints an optimistic view of the player’s proficiency in the deep game. As we can see, Coates falls below that threshold.

The former Auburn receiver’s SRVC on nines looks even worse when compared to Devin Smith’s 90.5% score; still one of the more outrageous Reception Perception stats recorded to date. While Coates possess an excellent amount of straight-line speed, he doesn’t display the ability to change gears in routes, or the subtle nuances Smith does to create separation deep. Coates is very capable of running past multiple players, and slicing a defense for a long touchdown. After all, he recorded 53.7 PTS on nine-routes because he is a very dangerous player. However, we all know the windows get tighter, and cornerbacks faster with added physicality, in the NFL. Prospects who make their living strictly by being able to “out athlete” their competition in college, often struggle to translate to the pros.

It’s well known that Sammie Coates is a raw wide receiver prospect. Even his biggest supporters would struggle to argue this point. If you’re drafting him, you have to at least believe he can pay immediate dividends as a playmaker. Its hard to imagine a team really feeling comfortable betting on that with Coates 45.5% SRVC score on nine-routes, and 42.9% contested catch conversion rate. While this only reflects data collected from two games, they were his best contests from the 2014 season. At this point, Coates does not translate his physical gifts to the field enough to carry a trump card, and therefore mitigate his other flaws, in the NFL.

Sammie Coates didn’t record a good SRVC score on slants but did perform at least reasonably well on the two other routes well represented in his percentage chart, the curl and comeback. Those who want to cite Coates’ potential, as a fluid route runner, will often capture the footage of one comeback from the Ole Miss game where he creates separation. He certainly does possess the natural ability to run these types of patterns, and get open. He is also benefitted by the space that corners give him, for fear of being burned deep. Coates will be afforded some of that cushion as a pro, even early on, but the remainder of his SRVC data doesn’t paint an optimistic picture of him exploiting it:

Of the now four prospects studied for Reception Perception, Coates posted (by far) the worst SRVC scores. In terms of NFL receivers, Coates would be well below average in terms of beating man coverage (52.9% SRVC), and near the bottom of the scale when it comes to getting open against zones (57.1% SRVC). To this point, he’s struggled mightily when dealing with multiple defenders in coverage, and doesn’t use his frame, or have many techniques, to beat press coverage.

While possessing exciting physical measurements, that should theoretically make separating from coverage a breeze, Sammie Coates hasn’t put it all together. His Route Percentage Chart exposes his inexperience as a balanced route runner. The majority of his SRVC data creates doubts about his ability to integrate his gifts with technical prowess to beat NFL defenders, after struggling to do so in college. Coates’ alarming 45.5% SRVC on nine-routes—coupled with his poor contested catch conversion rate—shows that while he has the attributes to be a frightening vertical threat, he cannot be trusted as one.

Tackle Breaking Measurement

Since Reception Perception has revealed Sammie Coates is not the deep threat you’d hope he’d be, one would hope he could bring value to other sectors of the game with his athleticism. One of those could be as a player after the catch. Unfortunately, Auburn’s offense did not present him much of a chance to demonstrate that:

On the 48 routes Sammie Coates ran during this two-game sample, the coaches only put him out “in space” on 4.2% of them. That means he only was in the open field, after catching a pass, with a chance to break a tackle twice. On one, he broke a single tackle. The other, brought down on first contact. There is really not enough data here to make a strong conclusion on Coates’ ability to make plays after the catch in the NFL.

 

Just based on his athletic attributes alone, a team can reasonably hope that Coates can do more for them in space than he did in college. On tape, he displays more fluidity as a runner of the football, than he does in his routes. These two games just did not provide enough attempts to accurately measure this using Reception Perception. 

Translation and the Bottom Line

The 2015 NFL Draft wide receiver class is not as top heavy, but rivals the preceding year’s group in depth. With that in mind, and taking into consideration his Reception Perception data, it does not seem wise for a team to invest serious draft capital into Sammie Coates. While he possesses good size, speed and athleticism, Coates is far off track in terms of piecing things together. He looks the part, but his play leaves major questions about his translation to the next level.

At this point, Coates essentially runs four routes on the tree. He struggled to consistently separate in the vertical game, and carried a nine-route SRVC score that was below 50%. There is no nuance to his downfield game, and he doesn’t evolve his speed into vertical ability. Supposedly his strength, Coates is underwhelming as a consistent deep threat. He displayed some potential on the other routes he ran during this sample, but these were just flashes. His future NFL team will be betting on massaging a lot of growth out of those instances of potential. It could happen, but the trouble is, he’s not as good in the one place you want him to shine (the deep game) as his reputation suggests. 

In addition to his technical inconsistencies as a route runner, Coates will also be a frustrating player in terms of catching the ball. His drop, and contested catch conversion rates from this study were very uninspiring. The fact that he scored poorly in both areas speaks to a startlingly reality. Based on his college tape, not only will Coates struggle to make the routine catches, he also cannot be counted on to make the difficult ones in tight situations. 

Trouble with his hands, lack of experience as a route runner, and little understanding as a technician; with all that information it’s clear Sammie Coates falls under a dangerous archetype. We’ve seen athletic wide receivers with impressive measurable come and go in the league, due to their numerous on-field deficiencies. Coates, of course, has the tools to potentially develop into a very good player in the league. However, so did those other players along his archetype, Darius Heyward-Bey, Stephen Hill, etc., but they never capitalized on their gifts. At this point, Sammie Coates is much closer to the scarier end of that group, then becoming the next Demaryius Thomas.

Of all four prospects now evaluated for Reception Perception, Sammie Coates has clearly had the worst data. He was deficient, compared to his peers, in just about every category. Coates is clearly behind Amari Cooper, Dorial Green-Beckham and Devin Smith as draft prospects. There are many more players in this draft, some that will not be featured for Reception Perception, that present a safer bet, with some upside, than Coates. It’s hard to fathom why an NFL team would take the plunge on Coates early in the draft. Particularly in light of his “strengths” being taken to task by Reception Perception. The occasional flashes shouldn’t fool the public, either.

If you enjoyed this prospect profile, become familiar with Reception Perception and learn about the release of the first annual Reception Perception Project publication. Make sure to follow the series, using the #ReceptionPerception tag on Twitter, and bookmark it to prepare for the release of the inaugural edition of the publication this summer.