By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH -- Knowing that you can't have too many good receivers in the NFL these days, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Auburn's Sammie Coates with the 87th overall pick in the third round during the NFL Draft Friday night.
Coates was the third straight player the Steelers selected from the SEC, and Steelers receivers coach Richard Mann believed the 6-foot-1, 212-pound wideout would be an excellent asset to the club's receiving corps. And with 4.43 speed, Coates gives the Steelers another big wideout who can stretch opposing defenses.
Coates played several times in his career against Steelers second-round pick Senquez Golson from Mississippi.
"I went against him a little bit, a couple times,'' Coates said. He laughed when asked if he dominated the much smaller Golson, but the numbers don't lie. Coates tallied five catches for 122 yards with a 57-yard touchdown at Ole Miss last year. But the Steelers could play him in the slot.
"I'm very excited to be part of it with the Steelers,'' Coates added. "(And) I'll do whatever I need to do to get the job done. ... I played there a little bit in college. They moved me inside on certain plays, so I can do it if I have to.''
Coates missed a game and was hampered much of last season after a knee injury early in the year against Arkansas. He still finished with 34 catches for 741 yards and four touchdowns. As a redshirt sophomore in 2013, Coates was third nationally with 21.5 yards per catch (42 for 902) with seven touchdowns.
The Steelers actually were looking hard at tight end Maxx Williams from Minnesota, and has local ties as his father graduated from Mount Lebanon High School near Pittsburgh. However, the Baltimore Ravens moved ahead in the second round to take Williams, and the Steelers took cornerback Senquez Golson instead. Then, they got a receiver in the third round.
"I thought it was a great selection,'' Mann said. "I think we got a guy who needs some work, but he's a great athlete with good speed who can take the top off the coverage. He's a guy who can track the ball down the field real well. He has some problems straight ahead, catching the football, but that's why we drill. So, we feel that we can coach him up to make that better.''
But what the Steelers can't coach up on Coates is his speed and athleticism and explosion that he has.
"Here's a guy who is a short 6-2, 212 is his weight,'' Mann said. "He vertical jumped like 41 (inches) and broad jumped 10-11. So, that shows his athleticism and explosion. He'll block, and he'll dig out safeties. ... He's got good size, but we think he can play Z. We could move him to X, but that's where Antonio is.''
Mann also believed Coates had an excellent ability to tack on some yards after the catch, and that's a good thing to do as a Z receiver. Coates also bench-pressed 225 pounds 23 times, so he has the upper body strength needed to be successful as well.
"We've seen it on tape, so we know he can do it,'' Mann said. "He can play inside. He's got the body to do it, but they used him as an over-the-top type guy. He's had some drops, but they all drop it. So, we just have to work with him and make sure that we give him confidence.''
Mann believed that he and offensive coordinator Todd Haley will put Coates in a position to be successful, and then they can bring him along slowly but surely.
"In watching the tape that I watched, the kid from Ohio State, Smith, and Coates were the best at tracking the ball,'' Mann said. "And those 50-50 balls, he usually came down with the ball in those situations.''
Coates is somewhat comparable to Martavis Bryant, a rookie with the Steelers last year, but the Steelers newest wideout has more experience and is further along than Bryant at this stage.
The draft concludes Saturday with Rounds 4-7. The Steelers have five remaining selections with two in the sixth round.