Sammie Coates: Ready for next step

2Q AUB Sammie Coates 68 Yd pass from Nick Marshall (Daniel Carlson Kick) (0:37)

Nick Marshall pass complete to Sammie Coates for 68 yds for a TD (Daniel Carlson KICK) (0:37)

AUBURN, Ala. -- Many thought Auburn junior D'haquille Williams would declare early for the NFL draft, but it was his teammate and fellow wide receiver Sammie Coates who announced Monday that he was leaving school early for the NFL.

"I think this is the time for me to take another step in my life, to take that chance," Coates told reporters Monday. "It's one of the biggest decisions I've ever had to make in my life dealing with something like this."

Coates is coming off a 206-yard, two-touchdown performance against No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl. Despite fighting through injury early in the year, Coates finished with 30 catches for 717 yards and four touchdowns. As a sophomore, he led the team with 42 catches for 902 yards and seven touchdowns.

"When he's full speed, there are not many receivers with his size that can run as fast as he can," Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. "He's probably as fast as any receiver in the country straight ahead, and yet he's got such great size. That's a combination that's rare."

"It just seems like yesterday that a real quiet, skinny kid from Leroy, Alabama, was up in our office," head coach Gus Malzahn said Monday. "I think he was either a two-star or a three-star and after a camp, we offered him. I'm real proud. To watch him grow, he's represented Auburn football in a great way."

On a conference call earlier this month, ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said both Coates and Williams project as high as late first round or early second. The last Auburn wide receiver to go in the first round was Terry Beasley in 1972.

Another factor that went into Coates' decision was that he graduated from Auburn on Saturday. Had he not, he likely would've stayed for his senior season.

"If I wouldn't have graduated, it wouldn't have even been a thought," Coates said.

Regardless of where he goes in the draft, the 6-foot-2, 201-pound Coates will be one to watch at the NFL combine, especially in the 40-yard dash, where he's reportedly been clocked in the 4.3s at both the high school and college level.