National Football League
Bills rookie WR Keon Coleman much more than the goofball we see on viral videos
National Football League

Bills rookie WR Keon Coleman much more than the goofball we see on viral videos

Published May. 21, 2024 8:00 a.m. ET

Michigan State receivers coach Courtney Hawkins was upset with Keon Coleman.

The coach told his No. 1 receiver to take it easy. The Spartans' season hadn't started yet, and Coleman had been one of the hardest workers during offseason practices. He needed to rest and recover. 

But Coleman didn't listen to Hawkins' instructions. Instead, he joined a group of MSU receivers and defensive backs to work out on their off day, going one-on-one in drills with a QB throwing. So while Coleman was supposed to rest, he couldn't pass up a little competition. 

Maybe that's because those one-on-one sessions offered another opportunity to compete against Charles Brantley, the team's top corner. And while Coleman isn't one to instigate trash talk, he'll make sure to shut someone up. 


"All it takes is to poke the bear one time and it's on," Hawkins said of Coleman. "That's the kind of competitor he is. All it takes is one DB to say one word. … He's super competitive, man."

Coleman's fierce competitive spirit landed him at Michigan State in 2021, then at Florida State in the transfer portal last year — and now with the Buffalo Bills, who picked him No. 33 overall in the 2024 NFL Draft

His cutthroat mentality might also surprise those who have seen the viral videos of Coleman after the draft. They're funny clips of him talking about his Macy's coat, a steal at $80, or touring the Bills' facility and setting a record with three "imaginary touchdowns." And let's not forget Coleman's assessment of his golf game.

"I'm Tiger Wish He Could. I'm not Tiger Woods," he said at the NFL Combine to a room of Bills staffers, including GM Brandon Beane, coach Sean McDermott and offensive coordinator Joe Brady. 

But in that same meeting, Coleman also demonstrated his wisdom and maturity.

"I wish I could putt and do all that. Them boys out there shooting five-under, I ain't doing all that. It takes me five putts to get it in. It's controlled chaos. You're frustrated, but you can't get mad," he said. "It forces me to stay calm and just swing."

Keon is unapologetically Keon. He always has been.

And there are so many sides to him that will surprise you.

After Coleman finished his introductory visit at the Bills' facility, he returned to his hotel with his mother, Ravin Savoy. Coleman began to cry. It had been almost 24 hours since Buffalo drafted him. Reality was setting in.

"I'm really in the NFL, mama," he said. "I'm really an NFL player."

"Yes you are," Savoy said. "You worked hard for this."

He did. He might have been a better basketball prospect coming out of high school, but his athleticism, intensity and work ethic fueled his rise to the NFL.

"He don't let loose in that capacity often," Savoy said. "I knew that was big. And he was just filled with so much emotion. So, I let him have his moments. And I stand strong."

Keon grew up in Opelousas, Louisiana with a younger sister and three older brothers. And before he found football and basketball, he was a stud in baseball. His mom used to offer him Oreo McFlurries from McDonald's or fried Oreos at Mama's Fried Chicken, a spot Savoy's friends owned. And sure enough, Coleman would hit a homer to earn his reward. He was at Mama's, in particular, so often that, as he got older, he'd go behind the counter to have the cooks prepare his order just right.

In his early AAU basketball days, Coleman would ride the bus for hours from Opelousas to games. To pass the time, the 15-year-old would suck his thumb and twirl his hair until he fell asleep. 

"The kids would joke at him all the time like, ‘Fifteen — sucking your thumb,'" said Randy Livingston, Coleman's former basketball coach, longtime friend and mentor. "But he just was an authentic guy. He didn't care either. He was just gonna be himself regardless." 

It didn't take long for Livingston to understand that Coleman is a special person. It took only seconds to understand he was a special athlete. One of Livingston's first impressions was watching young Keon step into the gym and throw down an Eastbay dunk — in slide sandals. 

He was highly recruited to play football and basketball, and he picked Michigan State in large part because it was one of only two schools that offered him the opportunity to play both sports.

But Coleman couldn't move over to basketball until after football ended, and it's not easy to join an elite Division I basketball team midseason. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound guard got just 11 minutes of playing time as a freshman during the 2021-22 season. He rejoined the team briefly in 2022-23 but didn't get into a game. 

Ultimately, basketball travel was simply too much, and it was clear he couldn't play both sports. Coleman decided to focus on football. He made that choice in consultation with legendary Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo, who told Livingston he thought the Spartans could have made a Final Four with Keon on the floor.

"I love Keon and have such great admiration for him, but I also want what is best for him and his future," Izzo said at the time of the decision. "I’m glad we agreed that this was the best plan of action moving forward."

Coleman always stayed close to the MSU basketball program and even returned to East Lansing in March for Senior Night. He stood courtside and wore the jersey of his friend, Steven Izzo, who was one of the players being recognized that night.

"He's in my game-worn jersey and it's a tight fit," Izzo said. "He looked ripped, and I remember joking around with him about how the jersey fit very snug and made me look very small. 

"But nothing was ever too big for him. Nothing is ever too small for him. He would give the shirt off his back for any one of those guys on his team. So that's really the coolest part about him is just how caring he was."

Keon Coleman made his college basketball debut on Jan. 29, 2022, scoring a bucket late in a blowout of Michigan. (Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

At the time he left basketball, Coleman simply thought he had a better chance at a pro career as a football player. After all, there are more NFL players than NBA players. Coleman was ready to put everything into pursuing a football career.

"I think it was just strictly a numbers game. And then Keon got better at football," Livingston said. "He needed to refine his skills, which he did. And I just thought it was a natural transformation."

That transformation was most dramatic under the tutelage of Hawkins, a former nine-year NFL receiver. When Coleman arrived at Michigan State, he basically ran the two simplest routes: quick screens and go-routes. Hawkins and Coleman worked tirelessly to broaden the receiver's skills. It would have been easy for Coleman to simply apply what came naturally to him — battling for 50-50 catches, particularly in the red zone — but he wouldn't settle for simply being a big body. 

That's how he made a massive leap from his freshman year (seven catches, 50 yards, one touchdown) to his sophomore year, when he had 58 catches, 798 yards and seven touchdowns.

"He wants to be a technician when it comes to route-running," Hawkins said. "And that's something I really liked about him and really appreciated about him. He wants to become a pure route-runner and not just rely upon being big and everything's about the contested catch. He worked hard on being efficient at the top of routes and eliminating steps and being able to punch and get in and get out."

Coleman's route-running has been a massive work in progress. But it demonstrates his coachability, which is why all of his coaches rave about him. And he has had a pretty big group of coaches considering how he transferred from Michigan State to Florida State for his final college season. Coleman's big 2022 with the Spartans drew interest from a handful of schools and, given the potential NIL money, he deeply explored all his options. 

"It was a business decision," Savoy said. "But I would say East Lansing is home." 

Coleman's final decision came down to Ole Miss and FSU, and on his visits to both schools, he showed discerning judgment. 

At about midnight during each visit, he scheduled throwing sessions with each quarterback, Ole Miss' Jaxson Dart and FSU's Jordan Travis. While most other visiting players would spend that night partying, Coleman spent the wee hours practicing. And he went back to Livingston, who attended those visits alongside him, with a scouting report about each signal-caller. 

In a way, it was a test — for the quarterbacks.

"He said, ‘I liked Jaxson. Thought he throws a good ball,'" Livingston said. "'But Travis throws a good ball on the run and in the pocket. And then we had [former FSU receiver] Johnny [Wilson] on the other side. We had a good running back. So it was this perfect situation for me.' 

"So carefully thought out. It wasn't like, ‘OK, let's go where the most NIL money was.'" 

Coleman knows himself. He knew that a quarterback like Travis — who is more creative out of structure (like Bills quarterback Josh Allen) — was a good match for his skill set as a wideout.

That wasn't the only fascinating moment from those visits.

Livingston sat in on Coleman's meetings with the FSU and Ole Miss coaching staffs. And while Livingston knew Coleman had developed since high school, he didn't realize just how much.

"[With the Seminoles staff,] we watched the Florida State-LSU game when it was in the Superdome and they went over every offensive snap. And Keon knew what was going on from the very beginning," Livingston said. "I was blown away at the film session. When I say I was blown away, Keon knew every position. He knew the X and the Y. He knew the motion calls."

Coleman is such a film junkie that he'd figured out a large portion of FSU's playbook before actually seeing it. And through those meetings and throwing sessions, Coleman found his way to Tallahassee, where he helped lead the Seminoles to an undefeated regular season. 

Perhaps fittingly, FSU opened last season against LSU. His mother removed herself from social media in advance of the opener after growing tired of the pregame trash talk. But maybe she should've stayed online for one more day.

Coleman had the best game of his career: nine catches, 122 yards and three touchdowns. He scored his first touchdown on the first catch of his FSU career, a 40-yard house call.

It's worth noting that LSU, effectively his hometown school, didn't recruit Coleman in high school. But that LSU-FSU film was, no doubt, pivotal in shaping his scouting report as a pro. Coleman finished his season with Florida State with 50 catches for 658 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also won "You Got Moss'd" for an insane one-handed catch against Syracuse that has gone viral multiple times, including on opening night of the draft.

On that April night in Detroit, the Bills likely would have taken Coleman at No. 32, the final first-round slot, but Buffalo traded back one spot and got the receiver at 33rd overall. Maybe Coleman's 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine — a mediocre 4.61 seconds — lowered his draft stock. And maybe the Bills used that to their advantage.

"I'm glad he ran that," Buffalo GM Beane said of the 40 time from his suite at the combine (as captured in a behind-the-scenes video). "It'll help to get him."

Coleman has the rare ability to bend, an expression often used for pass-rushers, and Beane said that he also has redirection skills comparable to a much smaller receiver. That allowed Coleman to play both on the perimeter (as an X receiver) and in the slot in college. 

With the Bills trading Stefon Diggs this offseason, Beane told reporters that he expects Coleman to play at the X spot. That's where they'll throw him into the competition against Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Mack Hollins.

Did the Bills make the right decision moving on from Stefon Diggs?

Perhaps all's well that ends well. Because while he might not be in the NBA — as Livingston thought he might someday be — and he was not technically a first-round pick — as Coleman no doubt wanted to be — the receiver seems to have landed in an ideal offense for his skill set. Beane has a knack for finding players who fill a need on Buffalo's depth chart and who have the potential to make an immediate impact. 

"We're going to be counting on him early in his role," Beane told reporters during the draft. "It's no secret we needed to add a guy like him to fill this X-role that's vacant."

Beane didn't mention Diggs, but he might as well have. Both Diggs and Gabe Davis departed this offseason, leaving the Bills sorely lacking in the receiver room. Coleman will work toward getting a major share of the 241 targets that went to them last season.

He will work to become Allen's favorite target both inside and outside the structure of the Buffalo offense. The rookie receiver will fight for jump balls, he'll find holes in zone coverage, and he'll work his way toward Allen when the QB gets creative on the move. That'll all require rapport, and they're already planning to work out this offseason at Allen's place in Wyoming. 

Coleman's path to the No. 1 spot starts there.

"He's ready for it," said Ron Dugans, Coleman's receivers coach at FSU. "That's what he wants. He wants to be good in that position. He's not afraid of it. He's worked his butt off for it. He knows he's got some big shoes to fill, and he doesn't have to go in and try to be Stef. 

"He's gotta go and be Keon Coleman. And he's confident in that."

If there's one thing you should know by now: Keon is unapologetically Keon.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @henrycmckenna.


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