Coates adds ‘The Panel’ to offseason list of ways to spike draft stock

Sammie Coates impressed at the Senior Bowl, showed feats of strength at the NFL combine and then had a great showing at his Pro Day. He'll join "The Panel" Sunday at 9 p.m. ET to talk about his pre-draft process.

Shanna Lockwood/Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

ATLANTA — When a team parks the bus next to a football stadium it wants Sammie Coates to be one of the first to get off. The 6-foot-1, 213-pound receiver is the epitome of what a football player should look like; chiseled, big, strong … imposing.

It’s been Coates’ job since January, when Auburn’s season ended with a loss to the Wisconsin Badgers in the Outback Bowl, to turn himself into the epitome of what a wide receiver looks like. vThe NFL draft begins on April 30. For the four months leading up to that event, Coates knew he’s was going to have to fight to prove himself. The Senior Bowl, the combine and his Pro Day were arenas to do just that.

On Sunday Coates will join "The Panel" on FOX Sports South to further the process of getting the word out about his new style of play. But his appearance on the show was as much take as it was give.

"It’s truly a blessing. Any opportunity I get is a blessing," said Coates after spending hours speaking with the four former NFL’ers that made up "The Panel." "I’m thankful for those guys taking the time to give me the advice that I needed to hear about going through this process, because it is a stressful process. Just to hear guys who have been there and done it already it gives me a better feeling that I’m going to be OK."

Coates sat with Marcus Stroud, Dre Bly, Clinton Portis and Tim Couch to discuss a number of topics. Between the four panelists there were four All-American awards, four All-Conference awards, a Heisman finalist and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. And that’s just on the college side of their resumes.

The quartet also featured two first-round and two second-round picks in the NFL, 35 years of pro experience, five Pro-Bowl selections and a Super Bowl ring.

On the agenda for "The Panel" was just about anything.

Coates left Auburn a year early after catching only 82 passes over three seasons. He was asked why he didn’t return for his senior season.

Known as primarily a deep threat in college, Coates discussed the process of getting NFL teams to notice him for more than just a receiver that can take the top off a defense.

The panelists wanted to talk about Coates’ huge showing at the Senior Bowl and his combine experience that offered both positives and negatives to his draft stock.

During the show, Coates was also asked to break down film, and to answer direct questions — both positive and negative — pertaining to what happened during specific plays during his college career.

"It’s very similar," said Coates about his experience on the show. "Like ‘What are you going to do when you get here?’ Or ‘How are you going to bring some aspect to the team you’re going to play for?’

"The guys know what to expect about what’s going on because they’ve been there. It was basically like the interview at the combine. I had fun with it. I enjoyed the coaches [at the combine] and that’s what I did in there, I had fun with it. It was an opportunity I’m thankful for. I didn’t take it for granted."

Coates also received advice about the process of becoming a member of the NFL. How to prepare for the time constraints, financial issues, and how to put his best foot forward to ensure a better draft slot.

And that’s what Coates has been working toward for the last almost three months.

Coates pulled in 34 passes last season and scored four touchdowns. While the number of receptions he made isn’t a strong selling point, his 21.8 yards per reception ranked fourth in the country and is absolute gold to NFL teams looking to churn as much yardage as quickly as possible.

But why did Coates only catch 34 passes for 741 yards? Part of the reason was the role he played in Auburn’s somewhat run-heavy offense. But Coates also had issues with dropped passes. And he only ran one route (the deep ball) really well.

"I love it," said Coates on the negativity from some scouts and coaches. "It’s like motivation (hearing somebody) saying you can’t do something. Somebody will tell you can’t and so you want to prove them wrong, right? That was my goal, just to prove everybody wrong."

By most accounts Coates’ performance at his Pro Day was a vast improvement over his time spent on the field at the combine. Coates caught all but one pass thrown his way, and impressed on not only his deep routes, but medium ones as well.

Since leaving Auburn, Coates has worked not only to prepare for the combine — he spent six weeks in Pensacola, Fla. training with EXOS — but to sharpen his route running. He wants to prove he’s not just a deep threat; that he can run intermediate routes, make plays on third down and get into and out of breaks on any portion of the route tree.

While at the Senior Bowl, Coates stood out as a red-zone target, and as a guy who could catch the football at any depth on the field. His performance at the combine was chart-topping off the field.

He led all wide receivers with 23 repetitions on the bench press, finished fourth in the vertical jump at 41 inches and third in the broad jump at 10 feet, 11 inches. Coates’ 20-yard shuttle was blazing fast at 4.06 seconds.

On the field at the combine, Coates dropped some passes. He also ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash, which was slower than expected. But Coates already has plenty of film showing he can blow by defensive backs. He needs more of a resume of clean catches and solid route running.

That’s what his Pro Day was about.

"I felt great," Coates said after his Pro Day. "I went out there to show I could run a route and show I could catch with my hands. ‘I can’t catch,’ that’s the biggest thing that’s out there (about me). I heard that from a lot of people. But hey, they saw me catch the ball, so what are they going to say now?"

Most of the feedback he’s getting is fantastic.

NFL teams love his intangibles. His height, weight, speed and strength are attributes that can’t be taught. The areas where Coates needs improvement — route running and his hands — he’s made adjustments to get better. He still needs to refine his route running, but he’s done so much in the 11 weeks since he finished at Auburn that the sky is the limit in the NFL.

One scout at the Senior Bowl said Coates had as much upside as any receiver in this year’s draft class, maybe more. But it would be his job to turn that raw talent and intangibles into greatness at the next level.

That’s exactly what his focus has been during his pre-draft preparations. In each step of the process, Coates seems to be showing growth. And that could lead to a better-than-expected draft slot next month in Chicago at the NFL draft.

Prior to the draft that kicks off at the end of April, Coates will spend time with "The Panel" on FOX Sports South. Tune in Sunday, March 22 at 9 p.m. to see what Stroud, Bly, Portis and Couch think about Coates and his transition from Auburn into the NFL.