With the heart-breaking news of long-time veteran Marques Colston’s departure from New Orleans after a decade-long run of being the best wide receiver in Saints history, there is a big void on the team that needs to be filled.
While we’ve seen the dynamic duo of Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead emerge in 2015, many fans have now turned their attention to soon-to-be 3rd year WR Brandon Coleman — an undrafted free agent signee from Rutgers University in 2014 — to be able to fill that void left behind by Colston.
But as we all know: he has some mighty big cleats to fill, in those worn by the legendary #12.
But before we judge whether Coleman is worthy of filling those shoes, we first have to get a better understanding of just exactly who Brandon Coleman is, and how he has gotten to this point.
Long before Brandon Coleman has gotten this upcoming opportunity next season to fill Colston’s shoes, he had to first get comfortable wearing his own shoes.
Oct 11, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandon Coleman (16) before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles won 39-17. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Indian Head Highway stretches for 20 miles along Maryland’s southern border, hugging the Potomac River to its left.
It was first constructed to connect Washington, D.C., in the mid-1940s with a naval facility in Indian Head. Its southwestern passage lands in Accokeek, Maryland — a place one person says is “a lot of trees — one of those kinds of towns.”
It was there that Brandon Coleman grew up, in a town a half-hour outside of the nation’s capital. Even in his youth, Coleman was mature beyond his years..
His mother even carried a birth certificate around just to prove her 7-year-old son was not cheating the Little League system.
When it came time for high school, the Colemans chose Bishop McNamara and head coach Byrce Bevill for their emphasis on academics — a process that led them to Rutgers as well.
Despite his many physical gifts, football did not come easily. His skills struggled to keep up with his body.
To bridge the gap, he had to compensate by working very hard — arriving at school at 6 in the morning for extra sessions and did the same during basketball season, a sport at which he also was good enough to play collegiately.
The physically-imposing Coleman impressed in both sports, as a defender and rebounder atop McNamara’s 1-3-1 zone in basketball; and making acrobatic catches at its nearby football field.
While Coleman’s 6-foot-6 build made college football the more viable option, his love for hoops was equally passionate; and he still plays the sport in his free time when he’s not busy now being a NFL player in New Orleans.
In his first year at Rutgers, Coleman could not play — forced to redshirt as he matured physically. Coleman spent game days calling plays and shouting at the TV from his couch, in a mix of excitement and disappointment.
“I was in my apartment alone watching the games just thinking did I make the right decision?” Coleman told NJ.com Rutgers football writer Mark Vorkunov in an interview back in 2013. “Do I still want to do this anymore? Do I belong here? I was questioning my abilities. It was a humbling experience.”
In his second year as a sophomore in 2012, it didn’t really get any easier.
In his first game, against North Carolina Central, he caught his first pass — a 44-yard touchdown. That night he was so hyped up about it, that he stayed up in his family’s Edison hotel room until 4 in the morning, sitting on the edge of the bed and chattering away.
But by the end of the first month of the season, Coleman was suffering from a crisis of confidence. He began to doubt himself again.
“I really started to feel that I didn’t belong here,” he recalled to Vorkunov. “That I didn’t belong at this level.”
But he would regain his self-confidence, on his way to 43 receptions for 718 yards and 10 touchdowns as a sophomore during that 2012 season, and after that “break-out” performance, big things were expected then for Coleman heading into his junior year of 2013.
Then, the unthinkable happened.
During team drills, Coleman tore his MCL in the Scarlet Knights’ spring practice of 2013.
Coleman rehabbed the injury, and was able to return in time to play shortly after the 2013 season had began
Coleman continued to play through the lingering pain and discomfort, despite a significant drop-off in statistics during what would be his final year in college.
Coleman finished 2013 with 34 receptions for 538 yards and four touchdowns, and shortly thereafter declared for the NFL Draft.
He was rated by many scouts coming out as a third- or fourth-round draft pick, but because of concerns that his knee wasn’t fully healed, Coleman went undrafted. ESPN/Scouts Inc. listed him as the top player who went undrafted; though Coleman told NJ.com that he didn’t regret declaring for the draft early.
“I did it last year and last year I had a lot more to show film-wise. This year, I didn’t really have a lot of complete games to get evaluated. I just felt as though I’m just going to go ahead and just go with it”, Coleman said in a late 2013 interview after announcing his intentions.
It’s interesting to note that since many Saints fans and even GM Mickey Loomis himself have referred to Coleman as the “heir apparent” to Colston, the similarities that Colston and Coleman shared on their way to the NFL, via the NFL Scouting Combine and the subsequent NFL Draft.
- Height: 6’5 6’6
- Weight: 224 225
- 40 yard dash: 4.54 seconds 4.56 seconds
- Vertical Jump: 37 inches 32.5 inches
- 3 cone drill: 6.94 seconds 7.33 seconds
It’s somewhat remarkable to see just how similar these two were, when comparing these numbers from their respective combine appearances.
Both receivers were predicted to go in the 6-7th rounds and or go to practice squads, and while Colston was taken as a late 7th round draft pick, (pick number #252 overall in the 7th Round of the 2006 NFL Draft), Coleman went undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft and shortly thereafter on May 10th, signed with the Saints (where he eventually ended up on the practice squad).
Coleman said he had the options to choose among contract offers from the Saints, Patriots, Chargers, Dolphins and the St. Louis Rams. Coleman said he chose the Saints, in part, because of their history of keeping undrafted free agents on the roster and giving them genuine opportunities to compete.
And that wasn’t a problem — since Coleman has only wanted just the opportunity to compete itself, from the very beginning since those days back in Accokeek.
However, his transition into the NFL was anything but smooth.
Jun 10, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandon Coleman (16) during minicamp at the New Orleans Saints Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Coleman struggled mightily as a rookie, suffering from a case of the “dropsies” and not being able to fully grasp the offense.
He was subsequently released, before being re-signed to the Practice Squad where he spent the majority of the 2014 season; before getting called up to the roster with three games remaining.
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Although Coleman didn’t play a single snap in 2014, Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees watched Coleman grow throughout that time, and they were always impressed with his progress.
As the shock of the disappointing 2014 season (the Saints had been picked by many to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLIX) wore off, Saints head coach Sean Payton decided to make some big changes heading into the 2015 season.
With the departure of wide receivers Nick Toon, Robert Meachum, and Jalen Saunders, there was more room and opportunities for guys like Willie Snead and Coleman to make the roster for the 2015 season, and as the 2015 Pre-Season came to an end, both Snead and Coleman were solidly entrenched in the Saints starting WR rotation.
Coleman started his “official” NFL debut off on the right foot by finishing with 4 receptions, 41 yards, and his first-ever NFL touchdown for the Saints, in a season-opening loss to Arizona.
After that impressive however, Coleman struggled with catching the football cleanly — making some notable drops in back-to-back losses against division rivals Tampa Bay and Carolina.
After seeing a total of 132 snaps in the first 3 games, Coleman only saw 19 in an October game against the Cowboys; a bit of a “message” perhaps from the Saints coaching staff that they wanted Coleman to “step up” his game a bit.
Coleman put together some solid performances when given playing time after that, including a Week #13 performance against the Carolina Panthers where he got 47 snaps, his most since the season opener in Arizona. He ended up grabbing four passes for 71 yards and a touchdown — his best game as a pro.
Then a few weeks later in the season finale at Atlanta, Coleman posted a career high 5 catches for 81 yards, when Marques Colston sat out with an injury.
Jan 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandon Coleman (16) stiff arms Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant (21) after a catch in the fourth quarter at the Georgia Dome. The Saints won 20-17. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
In all, Coleman caught a total of 30 passes for 454 yards and 2 TD’s in 2015, but they clearly were not the numbers that he was expected to put up by analysts and observers, and probably the Saints coaching staff as well.
Still, the Saints have not lost any faith in Coleman, as the statements from Brees and Loomis clearly illustrate.
Brees referenced Coleman along with Snead and #2 WR and emerging superstar WR Brandin Cooks, with these comments after the season finale against the Falcons:
“We have a lot of young guys that just never know when they’re going to have that moment and it’s that turning point for them and the team. I think there is some young guys that had that turning point over the last four games. Guys like Willie Snead, Brandon Coleman and a few others.”
Then of course Coleman got a tremendous appraisal last week, from Loomis during an interview on Sirius XM Radio.
Loomis noted that Coleman was “a big guy out of Rutgers that has done some good things, and I think in many ways is the heir apparent to Marques.”
With Drew Brees and Sean Payton both about to sign contract extensions in the upcoming weeks to remain in New Orleans for several more years, fans know that the Saints high powered offense will continue to function at a high level, even without it’s best receiver of all-time gone.
Coleman does have some momentum to build upon, such as the fact that he did lead all Saints WR’s — even Cooks — with an average of 15.1 yards per reception.
Coleman will only count $525,000 against the cap next season, and won’t be a free agent until 2017.
Meaning that if there were ever a time for Coleman to “step up” and prove that he can become a legitimate threat at the WR position in the NFL, then 2016 would be the time to do it.
Sep 3, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandon Coleman (16) warms up before game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
With a better comfort level between Brees and Coleman, along side a young receiving corps, there should be no reason or doubt that Coleman can double the yards in 2016, while putting up similar numbers to those that Colston had during the last decade in New Orleans.
With so many striking similarities to Colston, it isn’t hard to see Coleman with his first 1,000 yard season in 2016.
As far as “filling the shoes” of Colston, perhaps we should instead allow Coleman to follow his own path — the same path that started back at Accokeek, Maryland.
EVERY Saints fan knows that Coleman was and is a New Orleans Saints living legend — and he will NEVER be simply just “replaced”. However, fans should also be excited to see Coleman find his place and make his OWN mark within the Saints offense, and perhaps someday create his own legend.
The Saints and their devoted fans will miss Colston, but we can look forward to watching Coleman and seeing small glimpses of memories from Colston’s time in New Orleans, in Coleman’s style of play in 2016.
Brandon Coleman might not ever really “fill” Colston’s shoes —– but at least he’ll finally be comfortable wearing his own………..