Wide Receivers Coach Richard Mann announced this week that 2017 would be his final season. There were some whispers that 2016 was going to be his last, but he mentioned one reason for sticking around was this team is close to another title.
One reason the 70 year old Mann has to still be feeling young these days is his group is absolutely loaded. You want to know how loaded it is? So loaded, that the team has a 3rd round pick entering his 3rd season, that was on pace for a 60 catch, 1300 yard, 6 touchdown season prior to breaking his hand in week 5 last season; and the fanbase is talking about him not even making the roster in 2017.
Someone suggest to me earlier this week that Justin Hunter had the inside track on Sammie’s spot. Justin Hunter?! The guy who’s been with 3 teams in 4 years, and who’s season high in yardage (498) just barely eclipsed Sammie’s total through week 5 last year (421). I’m not trying to rag on Hunter, but right now he is untapped potential; Coates has produced at the NFL level. Part of me wonders if Hunter was insurance for a sitution where no receivers they liked fell to the Steelers in the draft, which we now know one did in JuJu Smith-Schuster.
I’m not saying it’s going to be easy for Coates to make the roster, and he may ultimately open the season as 5th on the depth chart, but I think people writing him off are making a big mistake.
Early word out of mini-camp is Sammie is looking healthy and catching balls coming his way at an impressive rate. Now, I think that he’s probably limited to playing on the outside, so chances are he wouldn’t see many snaps as long as Antonio Brown and Martavis are healthy. The great thing about Coates though, is he could totally change a game just playing a small number of snaps. He also has the size and ability to play special teams well enough to make you comfortable keeping him on the roster even if he’s not contributing on offense. If Coates gets cut, I believe he could be a #2 or #3 receiver on a lot of NFL teams. That’s an awesome thing to have in your 4th or 5th receiver.
While I’m excited about Smith-Schuster’s potential, I wouldn’t necessarily expect him to be the first man off the bench if there’s an injury. We got a little spoiled with how early the 2016 rookie class produced but typically the coaching staff likes to bring these guys along slowly.
The dismissal of Coates is a prime example of the NFL being a “what have you done for me lately” league and I’m not saying it shouldn’t be that way but it’s not as if his production just fell off because maybe it was a fluke. A serious hand injury is not easy for a receiver to overcome. If Coates looks like he did at the start of last season (and it’s not crazy to think he could be even better) he could be a great weapon that not many people are talking about this season.