Can Corey Coleman Transition from Baylor's Offense to NFL?

Ryan McCrystal@@ryan_mccrystalFeatured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2016

Baylor football head coach Art Briles has built one of the most potent offenses in college football over the past five years. But he hasn't exactly churned out successful NFL prospects.

Over the past five NFL drafts, Baylor has produced just five top-100 draft picks. That number jumps to six with the inclusion of wide receiver Josh Gordon, a second-round pick in the 2012 NFL supplemental draft.

The skill position players in that group have had moderate success at best. Off-field issues aside, Gordon has established himself as an elite receiver. But the others—Robert Griffin III, Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams—have been either been benched or are role players in their respective NFL offenses.

In most cases, it's best to ignore these apparent trends when evaluating the next top prospect from a given school—in this case, Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman.

Players fail to reach their ceiling at the next level for a wide range of reasons, and to assume those reasons will impact other prospects from the same school is just silly. But Art Briles' offensive scheme creates a unique situation that may tie the NFL failures of his prospects together.

To evaluate Coleman, let's take a look at some of his strengths, weaknesses and role in Baylor's offense impact his chances of succeeding in the NFL.



What constitutes a route in Baylor's offense looks more like something drawn up on a playground than anything you'll find in an NFL playbook.

For example, the route Coleman runs below can loosely be described as a stop-and-go route. However, Coleman's movements appear to indicate he's reacting to the quarterback rather than running a designed route.

Coleman's slow stop-and-side shuffle on the sideline isn't fooling Oklahoma State's cornerback, let alone any NFL scouts. His only hope of creating separation on this play is to simply outrun the cornerback once he restarts his route.

No NFL coach will teach this route because you can never assume your quarterback will have enough time in the pocket to complete the pass. For Coleman to run an effective stop-and-go route, he'll need to be crisp in his stop and explosive as he restarts.

Is Coleman capable of adjusting his routes to meet NFL standards? Probably.

He's clearly an elite athlete with exceptional speed. There's no reason to believe he isn't capable of running this route at an NFL level, but the fact that he hasn't done it raises a sliver of doubt.

Even this stop-and-go route is fairly complex for Baylor's offense.

The overwhelming majority of Coleman's targets came on screens, go routes and curl routes, which are routes he usually ad-libs and runs to find soft spots in zone coverage.

Here's an example of Coleman running a go route against Oklahoma State. While it showcases his speed, there's no shortage of receivers in the NFL capable of making these types of plays.

Baylor's spread offense creates these types of wide-open opportunities for Coleman on a regular basis, which severely limited the need for him to develop the nuanced route-running technique to create separation on his own.

One of the most NFL-ready receivers evaluated in recent years was New York Giants star Odell Beckham Jr., due to the incredible suddenness in his movements. Even at LSU, he could lose defensive backs in a single step due to his start-and-stop ability.

This play demonstrate the remarkable route-running technique Beckham displayed at LSU.

Unfortunately, we've never seen this from Coleman at Baylor. Due to the offense Baylor runs, he is rarely locked in tight coverage like this downfield.

It's important to reiterate that this doesn't mean Coleman can't run routes like Beckham. The raw athleticism is there for him to develop into an effective route-runner in the NFL.

But the fact that he hasn't been asked to run these routes will limit his ability to make an immediate impact at the next level.


Contested Catches

Unrelated to Baylor's offense, Coleman's ability to compete for contested catches is one of the reasons his game should transition well to the NFL.

Smaller receivers often struggle with this aspect of the game, but Coleman has demonstrated a willingness to battle for the ball and take some hits.

This skill was put on full display against Kansas State when he came down with this remarkable touchdown reception:

Battling for contested catches is an important trait for a receiver to display in college because it's difficult to teach.

These types of receptions require a focus and fearlessness that coaches can't instill in a player. Perhaps a player can improve with more reps, but there's never a surefire way to develop this skill in a young receiver.

The fact that Coleman has already displayed this ability should ease coaches' concerns about his ability to transition to the NFL.


Final Projection

So, can Coleman buck the trend and make a smooth transition from Baylor's offense to the NFL?

Based on his speed and all-around athleticism, the answer is definitely yes. But because of his role in Baylor's offense, there's more doubt than there would be if he had experience in a more pro-style system.

Most of the receivers who have made an immediate impact in recent years—Beckham and Amari Cooper are the best examples—have done so due to their remarkably refined route-running skills.

The ability to create separation, even in quick routes and against more athletic defensive backs, is what takes a talented receiver and turns him into an elite receiver. Beckham and Cooper demonstrated those skills from the minute they set foot on an NFL practice field. 

Coleman is far behind those two, and most others, in terms of his development.

So while Coleman's long-term future is more of a projection than a sure thing, he does show traits that should lead to some moments of success.

Receivers who excel in one area can still make an immediate impact. For example, Kelvin Benjamin was perhaps the most fundamentally erratic prospect I've scouted at the receiver position. But due to his 6'5", 240-pound frame and impressive leaping ability at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, the Carolina Panthers found an immediate role for him in their offense. 

Coleman wins with much different traits than Benjamin, but the example still applies. With his speed and ability to compete for contested catches, he should immediately find a role as a deep threat. 

Whether or not he develops into a more well-rounded receiver will be up to him and his willingness to master the technique of creating separation with his footwork rather than simply with his pure speed.


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