Sammie Coates experiment has major potential for Steelers

Most of the Pittsburgh Steelers' draft picks were sound, sensible decisions on the defensive side. But the most fascinating player to watch develop from this class will be receiver Sammie Coates, who has two options: validate the pass-dropper label or bolster the league's second-ranked passing offense with his explosive playmaking.

Two things were mentioned frequently about Coates' potential during the draft process: First-round talent, 9.8 percent drop rate. That's the number ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper mentioned on Friday's broadcast, while also pointing out the good news that Coates consistently beat SEC defensive backs downfield while at Auburn.

Kevin Colbert is undeterred by the stigmas attached to Coates, whom the Steelers' general manager calls big, strong and fast.

"Trust me, he has good hands," Colbert said. "He has big-play ability."

The 6-foot-2, 213-pound Coates averaged 21.6 yards per catch, which highlights a broader point concerning the drops: He wasn't dropping easy ones all the time. He was consistently asked to make difficult catches downfield. He was in a rush-heavy offense that averaged less than 20 pass attempts per game. Refining the route tree wasn't part of the job description -- go routes and blocking were.

Auburn's run-heavy offense had teams thinking Coates might need time to adjust to NFL systems. That contributed to the second-to-third-round feedback Coates got during the draft process.

There's a level of risk involved in the Steelers' No. 87 overall pick. But if the Coates experiment works, an already-lethal attack just got more balance.

Third-year wideout Markus Wheaton could slide to the slot position, with Antonio Brown as the lead target, Martavis Bryant on the outside and Coates as a wild card. The Steelers' depth will allow Coates to transition without pressure to perform on Day 1.

"My goal is to be a complete wide receiver," Coates told me in January. "I don't want to be looked at as only a deep guy."

Coates maximizing his potential would strengthen Pittsburgh's argument for the best receiving corps in the AFC North, battling with Cincinnati's A.J. Green-Mohamed Sanu combo and others.

After a general manager selects a player, it's his job to promote the player in the post-draft news conference despite potential flaws in that player's game. Still, Colbert sounds like a man quite satisfied with his third-round pick.

"When I see Sammie Coates running through SEC secondaries and catching touchdown passes and adjusting to underthrows, showing he has ability to adjust to a ball behind, that's all a plus," Colbert said.