AUBURN, Ala. — Sammie Coates finished up his pro day workout last month satisfied, if not feeling a bit vindicated. Constantly bombarded with questions about why he was so inconsistent catching the ball during his Auburn career, Coates believed he had shown those in attendance those concerns were unfounded.
"I went out there to show I could run a route and show I could catch with my hands," he said at the time. " ... I 'can’t catch,' that’s the biggest thing that’s out there (about me). I heard that from a lot of people. But hey, they saw me catch the ball, so what are they going to say now?"
To Coates' likely dismay, that criticism has been hard to shake. And according to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, that may be the reason Coates doesn't get taken in the first round.
"Sammie Coates tests like a 1 (but) the drops are a concern,” Kiper said during a conference call last month. “He’s the kind of guy, that (if his) concentration level improves, he’s got the frame, he’s got the physical qualifications to be a first-round pick. I would think Sammie Coates goes second or third round.”
His problem with dropped passes is about the only thing NFL talent evaluators don't like. At the combine, he had a 131-inch broad jump and a 41-inch vertical, placing him among the top four receivers in both categories. And he also clocked in at 4.43 in the 40-yard dash.
With those types of numbers, it's easy to see why he was the Tigers' top downfield threat the past two seasons, which saw him catch 76 passes for 1,643 yards and 11 touchdowns. But while he knows his capabilities, Coates shies away from the characterization that he's not a factor on shorter or intermediate passes.
"There's that label out there (that I'm) a 'deep threat' guy. That ain't going to go nowhere, I don't think. I can take the top off any defense. That's always going to be there," he said. "But I'm just trying to be an all-around guy. I don't want to just a deep threat guy. I want to be a guy you can put in at any time. Proving that has really been my goal throughout this whole process."
To perhaps further show his commitment to becoming a complete receiver, Coates said "a lot of people would be shocked" to hear what he drew when asked to draw his favorite route during meetings at the combine. Instead of deeper route like a go or post, he drew up a dig. Also known as a "square-in" route, it's a staple of the intermediate passing game, where the receiver runs downfield 12 to 15 yards before abruptly turning toward the middle of the field.
So why did Coates choose it?
"(It shows) that I don't just know deep ball routes," he said. "I can do other things."
Much as he'd like to shed that label, Coates' ability to make explosive plays is his biggest asset. As for the reservations teams may have about his hands, well, that's not going away, either.
“Somebody’s going to roll the dice that he’ll be consistent enough — he’s going to have drops, you’re going to have to live with those — but he’s a threat down the field,” Kiper said. “He’s got the physical qualifications to be a guy that can factor into this pass-happy league where receivers get kind of a pass anyway going down the field."
And the way Kiper sees it, there's little chance Coates is still available beyond the third round.
“When you’re as talented as he is and you’re as big as he is," Kiper said, "that’s enough to make you a second or third round pick, guaranteed."