Browns Senior Bowl spotlight: Auburn WR Sammie Coates

MOBILE, Ala. — The Cleveland Browns need wide receiver help. Auburn’s Sammie Coates, one of the best size-speed combos at this week’s Senior Bowl, could help Cleveland’s ailing outside receiver position.

Andrew Hawkins can play outside but is best utilized in the slot, as is Taylor Gabriel. The two top outside targets last season, free agent Miles Austin and oft-suspended Josh Gordon, are not locks to return. The Browns might have no choice but to keep Gordon if his trade value isn’t high enough.

This year’s receiving class might not match last year’s, but Coates should play a prominent role in the 2015 group. He stood out in what was mostly an undersized Senior Bowl corps. When talking to scouts generally about players this week, Coates’ name comes up often.

The 6-foot-2, 213-pound Coates told the Baltimore Sun he patterns his game after Julio Jones. That’s a lofty comparison. But Coates’ point is this: His speed and size can help him win matchups on deep or shorter routes. Coates was an effective deep-ball receiver at Auburn with 21.6 yards per catch, but in Mobile, he showed in red-zone packages that he can get inside a cornerback and muscle him out.

He also caught TCU’s Kevin White on a double move, bolting down the sideline to catch a long touchdown pass in stride.

When talking to scouts about Senior Bowl players this week, they often mention Coates.

“My goal is to be a complete wide receiver,” Coates said this week. “I don’t want to be looked at as only a deep guy.”

Auburn’s offense, though explosive, didn’t exactly help him in that area. Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall averaged 18.8 passing attempts per game in Coates’ two years as a starter. Over the next few months, NFL teams will study Coates’ route-running precision to ensure he can handle a full NFL slate.

The Browns’ new regime didn’t draft a receiver with any of its six selections last year despite an obvious need. That seems a philosophical move — GM Ray Farmer won’t be wowed by measurables and numbers.

“It’s not about a guy’s size. It’s about a guy’s skill set,” Farmer said Thursday.

But getting at least one impact pass-catcher should be paramount this year. Alabama’s Amari Cooper is widely considered the top receiver in the draft. Louisville’s DeVante Parker and West Virginia’s Kevin White will help drive the conversation. Coates will be in the mix, and don’t forget about beastly Arizona State wideout Jaelen Strong.

The Browns will need an outside pass rusher, a nose tackle, and possibly a tight end, but any of those five receivers will be intriguing options.

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