Position battles are fun to watch. From a third party perspective, that is. Competition pushes players to prove they’re worth a roster spot amid rising expectations and level of play. Although the two players we’re discussing in this post are not vying for a spot in the same position group, their individual performances in training camp could determine if the other makes the roster.
Sammie Coates is a newcomer in the wide receiver corps, and is looking to reestablish his career on his third team in three years. Stephen Anderson was an undrafted rookie free agent two years ago and has slowly progressed up the Texans roster, but he faces a flurry of competition from the young tight ends the Texans have brought in.
Anderson caught 25 passes for 342 yards and one touchdown last year. He was third on the team in receiving yards, and was the only somewhat consistent receiving option at tight end in 2017. Even so, Anderson is more of a slot receiver than anything else. His lack of blocking keeps him off the field in running situations. This forced the Texans to add two monstrous tight ends to the roster in the 2018 NFL Draft. 6’4” Jordan Akins from Central Florida and 6’5” Jordan Thomas from Mississippi were drafted in the third and sixth round respectively. Either could threaten Anderson’s future on the 53-man roster. Ryan Griffin, the veteran tight end of the current group, is slotted to be the starting TE despite ending his 2017 season on IR with a concussion. There‘s also MyCole Pruitt, who cracked Houston‘s roster late last season when both C.J. Fiedorowicz and Griffin were out. Matt Lengel and Jovani Roberts will also compete for a roster spot this season.
Normally, a team keeps about three tight ends on a roster. Keeping four would likely require one less offensive lineman or wide receiver. The Texans wouldn‘t have drafted two tight ends without the knowledge or game plan in place to deal with a position battle. On the third year of an UDFA contract, the Texans have less invested in Anderson compared to Ryan Griffin, Jordan Akins, and Jordan Thomas. If the Texans decide to move on from Griffin, perhaps due in part to his contract and his injury history, the problem gets solved a little easier.
In the other corner, weighing in at 6‘1” and 210 lbs, entering his fourth season, and looking to build on an a promising 2016 season, is WR Sammie Coates. Although he has never played a full season in the NFL, Coates has the size and speed teams desire in a wide receiver. He was ominously traded from the Steelers to a division rival in the Cleveland Browns just before the 2017 season started. The Steelers obviously didn‘t place a lot of value in Coates. They traded him and a seventh round pick for just a sixth round pick in return. The Steelers saw more in JuJu Smith-Schuster and returning receiver Martavis Bryant than Coates.
Coates still has the skills necessary to make an NFL roster. This could be his last chance to do so.
Coates has talent. Straight-line speed is his biggest weapon, and it‘s best utilized on the outside. His recent game tape shows a knack for “stacking” his defender on deep routes; that means that he gets enough separation from the defender that he has them running directly behind him rather than alongside him. This skill has yet to be fully utilized, as injuries have constantly suppressed Coates‘s ability to stay on the field. Groin, knee, and finger injuries have led to Coates being a fringe roster player on the Texans. Even the lowly Browns couldn‘t find a role for him. He comes to the Texans excited to prove himself.
“I’m a big guy,” Coates said. “I’m fast. I can play special teams. I can give them offense and make plays. I’m versatile. Whatever they need me to do, that’s what I bring to this team.”
Coates also possesses the ability to return kicks, which gives him another opportunity to make the roster if he finds a way to stand out amid the new kickoff rules. Making the roster and being a part of the Texans‘ offense would likely force Coates to play a slot receiver since DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller V play on the outside. With his size, Coates could be an effective option over the middle in short yardage situations.
The thing is, however, Coates may get lost in a crowd of talented and versatile receivers. Keke Coutee projects as the Texans‘ future slot receiver with deep threat potential. Braxton Miller is fighting to make the roster as a flexible offensive weapon. Bruce Ellington was a surprisingly consistent option at receiver last year. Coates’s battle may finally not be his injuries but rather the depth and similarities in skill-sets found elsewhere on the roster. The main question is whether Coates offers anything that’s not already found in another player. A big performance in training camp will be crucial for Coates.
Although they don‘t play the same position, Coates‘s future in Houston may be threatened by Anderson’s presence on the team as a receiving tight end. Anderson’s receiving aptitude should keep him on the roster despite the Texans drafting two tight ends. Although he is not a blocker at heart, I trust Anderson to catch a ball more than I do Coates.