As Bills fans paint over Stefon Diggs era, expectations soar for rookie Keon Coleman


Staff member


Motorists along Hertel Avenue are tapping the brakes for Keon Coleman.

It’s one of the few places that seems to be happening around here. The Buffalo Bills’ energetic and affable rookie receiver has made a striking first impression on fans and the media. Coleman already has them eating from the palms of his trusty hands before seeing them actually catch a football.

His oversized personality is even helping folks get over Stefon Diggs.

At the corner of Wellington Road and Hertel Avenue, on the red brick outside wall of the Moor Room bar, was a mural of Bills quarterback Josh Allen and Diggs, a couple of badasses standing side by side in full uniform — dark visors for added menace — and staring down any North Buffalo passersby.

Then came April 3, when the Bills reached their breaking point with Diggs and traded him to the Houston Texans. Gone in a flash was the four-time Pro Bowler, who amassed 445 catches for 5,372 yards and 37 touchdowns in four years. But he wanted out, and his behavior became too intolerable to keep him around.

The mural couldn’t stay.

“It was a discussion we were having,” Moor Room owner Mike Shatzel said. “We had to get rid of Diggs.”

Within three weeks, Coleman arrived in Orchard Park, creating viral content and rizzing up everyone in his presence. His introductory news conference featured a discussion about his yellow winter jacket, purchased from Macy’s two seasons ahead for a discount. The Bills released video from his pre-draft interview and fans swooned even more.

The man’s downright charming.

That gave artist Rory Allen an idea about Moor Room’s mural: wallpaper over Diggs.

“It’s just a football player with a uniform and a helmet on,” Allen said. “If you’d just replace the number, nobody would’ve really cared, but the yellow jacket presented itself.

“To say this was a diss to Diggs or that Keon Coleman will somehow replace or be the equal of Diggs is impossible to know. But we’re Bills fans. We’re crazy.”


The mural depicting Buffalo Bills rookie WR Keon Coleman and quarterback Josh Allen sits outside the Moor Room bar in Buffalo. (Tim Graham / The Athletic)

Rory Allen, born and raised in Buffalo, is known around town for his Bills-inspired public art. He created the (Josh) Allen-Diggs 2020 campaign signs that dotted many front lawns and the Josh Allen caricature hurdling the Hertel Avenue street sign.

Within a few hours earlier this week, using applied all-surface vinyl, Diggs was off the wall. Granted, the original Diggs designed by Carl Cordes remains underneath, but that yellow jacket is unmistakable. It’s Coleman now.

The symbolism is cathartic.

“We felt we were broken up with,” Rory Allen said of the Diggs trade. “We feel he really wanted out. We don’t have the expectation Keon Coleman is going to come in and be Stefon Diggs, but from a fan standpoint, it’s not too hard to move on from Stefon Diggs.”

The hoopla around Coleman needs to quiet down, and he seems to realize as much. After his first rookie minicamp practice Friday, he talked like someone who realizes he hasn’t proven a thing yet.

Coleman was drafted 33rd overall, the eighth receiver off the board. The Bills had a crying need at the position. General manager Brandon Beane also added veteran receivers Curtis Samuel, Chase Claypool and Mack Hollins this offseason, but, unfair or not, Coleman will be considered Buffalo’s main acquisition to answer Diggs’ departure.

As entertaining as Coleman has been at the microphone, the mood will dramatically swing if he doesn’t produce.

“I’m aware of it,” Coleman said when asked about the buzz around him. “But I’m happy to keep the main thing the main thing: Get back to playing ball. The hype can be there all it wants, but I still have to make plays on the field, and I want to help contribute to win, so we’ve got to win to make our fans happy.

“A jacket ain’t going to get that done.”

If Coleman ever forgets that sentiment, then all a Bills staffer will need to do is point him in the direction of Claypool’s locker stall for a chat. Claypool, a second-round draft choice four years ago from Notre Dame, will turn just 26 in July and is on his fourth NFL team within a year and a half.

Moor Room could have declared that’s Claypool on the side of the building now. He’s going to wear Diggs’ No. 14.

“No,” said Shatzel, although he’s a devout Notre Dame fan, “I was not putting Chase Claypool on the wall.”

In Claypool’s rookie season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he caught 62 passes for 873 yards and nine touchdowns. He followed that with 59 receptions for 860 yards but only two TDs. Despite playing 27 games the past two seasons with the Steelers, Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins, he managed only 54 catches for 528 yards and two TDs.

So even rookies who thrive provide no guarantees, and the list of second-round flameouts is long.

Strange as it sounds, Coleman is the eighth-earliest receiver Buffalo has selected since the NFL common draft began in 1967. That’s mostly due to founder Ralph Wilson’s running back fascination even while the NFL transformed into a passing league and they already had good rushers on the roster. The only Bills receivers drafted sooner than Coleman were J.D. Hill, Sammy Watkins, Jerry Butler, Haven Moses, Lee Evans, Perry Tuttle and Eric Moulds.

Some superstars are in that group, but others also taken in the second round include Josh Reed, Zay Jones, Eric Richardson, James Hardy, Robert Woods, Chris Burkett, Byron Franklin, Peerless Price and Roscoe Parrish — a mixed bag for sure.

Coleman will get ample opportunities to make his mark. He possesses big-play traits, albeit minus the elite speed teams covet. That’s why he still was available when the Bills traded back twice and out of the first round. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.61 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he is 6-foot-4 and 213 pounds. He made difficult catches look slick at Michigan State (where he also played basketball for Tom Izzo) and in one season at Florida State. Drops for Coleman are rare. Josh Allen will look for him in the red zone.

That said, it’s bound to take time for Coleman to develop into a consistent threat and for his production to match his incandescent personality. So, let’s give him a chance to grow into the role.

The rookie has grabbed our attention with ease. Papering over Diggs won’t be so simple.

But that’s not to say Coleman cannot eventually prove to be the perfect fit.