Bills hope Keon Coleman is the power forward they've been lacking


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There’s a popular school of thought among football coaches that you’d like your wide receiver room to be like a basketball team.

That means different shapes, sizes and strengths. Give me a quick point guard, a speedy wingman and a power forward, at the least.

The Buffalo Bills have been lacking a power forward who could dominate for a long time.

They acted to fill that hole Friday by selecting Keon Coleman with the 33rd pick in the NFL draft. The basketball analogy is intentional because Coleman brings mad hoops skills to the football field.

This is a guy who was good enough on the court to play for legendary Michigan State coach Tom Izzo’s team when he was a two-sport freshman for the Spartans in 2020 and 2021.

The Bills have a go-to middle-of-the-field target in tight end Dalton Kincaid. They have a shifty slot receiver in Khalil Shakir. They added some much-needed speed and a run-after-the-catch threat in Curtis Samuel.

The Bills drafted Florida State wide receiver Keon Coleman, right, with the first pick of the second round on Friday. Chuck Burton, Associated Press

Coleman gives them a prototypical big, X-WR, a guy who works outside the numbers, lining up on the line of scrimmage opposite the tight end. It’s Gabe Davis’ position.

Is Coleman going to be WR1 as a rookie in the absence of Stefon Diggs? Doubtful. Very highly doubtful.

Josh Allen is going to need to be the master distributor, spreading it around, kind of like he did the second half of last season.

The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Davis was the 128th overall pick in the fourth round in 2020. He was a fine all-around player. We’re not here to throw dirt on him. But Davis didn’t possess one overwhelming strength. He wasn’t a dominant contested catcher on the boundary. He didn’t do enough consistently against top-caliber cornerbacks.

It’s no lock that Coleman is better than Davis. But Coleman was drafted 95 picks sooner than Davis because he has more overall talent and he possesses some traits that might translate into superpowers in the NFL.

Coleman is 6-3¼, 213 pounds. He’s a more physically impressive athlete than Davis. Coleman has a basketball player’s body control and leaping skills (he had a 38-inch vertical jump). He showed elite, 50-50 ball skills at Florida State. He draws pass interference fouls in the red zone. He makes acrobatic catches in the air. This is a guy who could be a go-to receiver working the sideline for Allen.

Coleman was asked about how his basketball skills translate to football on a conference call with Buffalo reporters Friday.

“I think having the ability to be able to go up there with the confidence that you can come down with the ball every time is a major plus,” he said.

The big concern, as with most big receivers, is separation ability. Are top-caliber cornerbacks going to make him disappear?

Bills General Manager Brandon Beane said he thinks Coleman has some separation ability. And Beane thinks Coleman’s ability to counter press coverage is an asset.

“Really good release,” Beane said. “Of the bigger guys, we thought his release was about as good as any. I think that comes from the basketball, some of the guys were a little stiffer and they struggle. Is he going to run away from people? Probably not. That’s probably not his No. 1 strength.”

Coleman ran a 4.61 time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. That was the slowest of any of the top 30-rated wideouts in the draft, according to the Buffalo News’ ranking.

Davis runs 4.54. Shakir runs 4.43. Samuel runs 4.31.

However, Coleman had the fastest time the past two years at the combine in the gauntlet drill, in which receivers run the width of the field and catch a series of seven passes from opposing directions.

Coleman’s gauntlet time was 20.36 mph, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Is this cherry picking of stats? Maybe. But Los Angeles Rams rookie sensation Puka Nacua had the fastest time in the gauntlet last year at 20.06 mph.

“Puka Nacua ran 4.57 last year (in the 40), but the gauntlet tells you a lot,” said ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. “Keon Coleman is a great example. He’s 213 pounds. He’s got length. He ran 4.61. But he didn’t play to 4.61. But in the gauntlet he was great.”

Kiper rated Coleman No. 33 overall in the draft.

Former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum hedges his bets on Coleman.

“He’s a real good player,” Tannenbaum said. “His speed to me is a concern. We have seen some guys that when they get to the league, when they don’t have short-area quickness or speed that can be something that prevents them from being a front-line player. But I really like Keon. I wish he ran a little bit better. I see him more in the second round.”

Bills coach Sean McDermott frequently talks about the NFL being a matchup league.

The hope is Coleman can exploit matchups against teams with smallish cornerbacks.

Now it’s on Allen and offensive coordinator Joe Brady to make the total production in the Bills’ wideout room be greater than the sum of the parts.

The Bills lost 178 catches by wide receivers from last year’s team. That was 82% of the wideout catches. The opportunity is there for this new cast.

When defensive coordinators game plan for the Bills, are they going to have to worry about gearing their coverage to stop someone?

Is Kincaid going to be the defense’s focus? Can Coleman’s size and Samuel’s speed consistently hurt teams?

“I can tell you when we go into a game-plan meeting ... you say, who do we have to take away, right?” McDermott said before the draft. “That’s where you like to have a No. 1 player, whether it’s offensively, defensively. You look at it as an opponent looking at us and saying, Hey, who do they have that we have to worry about? ... The matchup piece is real.”

Are the Bills good enough in that regard? It will be an open question until September ... and maybe longer.

No blockbuster move​

There was a lot of chatter on social media before the draft about the possibility of the Bills acquiring a proven veteran like either Deebo Samuel or Brandon Aiyuk.

The 49ers likely can’t afford to keep both for the long term. Aiyuk is playing on a fifth-year option and is younger. Samuel, 28, has two years left on a deal that averages $23.8 million a year. The 49ers reportedly are more willing to move Samuel.

The deal doesn’t make sense for the Bills from a salary cap standpoint. Samuel’s cap hit for 2024 would be $21.9 million for the team that acquires him. The Bills have $3.6 million in cap space, according to They get another $10 million in space in June when Tre White’s numbers come off the books.

It’s not impossible to fit such a big number under their cap in 2024, but they would have to restructure every other available veteran they haven’t already done this offseason. They probably would need the 49ers to eat some of the base salary, too.

One of the benefits of dealing Diggs, besides getting him out of the locker room (which the Bills clearly wanted to do), was he’s off their books for 2025. Do the Bills really want to put themselves under more cap pressure with an expensive wideout when cheap labor is available in the draft? No. Would Samuel take the Bills over the top? I don’t see it.

The much better, simpler answer is to get the draft pick right. Coleman is stepping into a good situation. The Bills need their highly regarded scouting staff to be right about him.