Tevin Coleman brings the top-notch pass-catching ability that the New York Jets’ backfield was previously lacking.
The New York Jets’ returning backfield trio of Josh Adams, La’Mical Perine, and Ty Johnson offers an intriguing mix of young talent, but it lacked one thing: proven receiving ability. Adams and Johnson were highly efficient rushers in 2020, while Perine showed some flashes of solid vision and shifty lateral agility, but none of the three were legitimate threats through the air.
Enter Tevin Coleman. The first 49er to follow Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur to New York, Coleman offers the excellent receiving talent that the Jets’ backfield was missing.
Career receiving impact
Coleman has built a reputation as one of the NFL’s better backs in the passing game. Check out how some of his career receiving numbers compare to the going rates at the position:
Coleman’s high-quality pass blocking couples up with his receiving abilities to make him the ideal third-down back. He has given up only 15 pressures over 257 career snaps in protection, a 5.8% rate that is slightly above half of the 2020 average for running backs (10.4%).
Explosive rushing in Atlanta
Over the first four years of his career as a member of the Falcons, Coleman was an effective rusher in addition to his pass-catching abilities. He averaged 4.43 yards per rush attempt from 2015-18.
As a rusher, Coleman was far more of a big-play threat than a chain-mover during his Atlanta days. Coleman picked up a first down or a touchdown on only 19.3% of his carries with the Falcons, a subpar rate (2020 RB average: 23.7%). However, his big-play numbers were tremendous.
From 2015-18, Coleman gained 962 of his 2,340 rushing yards beyond 15 yards downfield, a massive 41.1% rate that clobbers the 2020 average for running backs (24.4%). Per carry, Coleman averaged 1.82 yards beyond 15 yards downfield, a mark that is 70% higher than the 2020 running back average (1.07).
Rushing struggles in San Francisco
Coleman could not find a groove on the ground with the 49ers. He averaged only 3.62 yards per carry over his two seasons in San Francisco, picking up a first down or a touchdown on a measly 17.6% of his carries.
In 2020, Coleman was abysmal with his tiny sample of 28 carries, averaging 1.89 yards per carry. He averaged 3.97 yards per carry in 2019.
However, it’s worth noting that Coleman’s awful rushing numbers in 2020 could be blamed on terrible blocking in front of him. Coleman averaged -0.6 yards before contact per carry in 2020.
Despite his overall prowess as a receiver, Coleman is quite prone to drops. He has 14 career drops against 117 receptions for a drop rate of 10.7%, a decent amount higher than the 2020 running back average (7.4%).
Steady decline in receiving impact
While Coleman’s career receiving numbers remain strong, his impact in that phase has declined year-over-year since an outstanding season in 2016.
Receiving yards per game:
- 2016 (ATL): 32.4
- 2017 (ATL): 19.9
- 2018 (ATL): 17.3
- 2019 (SF): 12.9
- 2020 (SF): 4.3
Yards per target:
- 2016 (ATL): 10.5
- 2017 (ATL): 7.7
- 2018 (ATL): 6.3
- 2019 (SF): 6.0
- 2020 (SF): 6.8
Yards per route run:
- 2016 (ATL): 2.54
- 2017 (ATL): 1.50
- 2018 (ATL): 0.93
- 2019 (SF): 1.06
- 2020 (SF): 1.31
However, in fairness to Coleman, his conversion rate (percentage of targets resulting in a first down or touchdown) over the past four seasons remains a very good 33.1%, which is even higher than his career average of 32.5%. He has still delivered the goods when targeted even though his yardage production has dwindled. Even so, his average of 6.7 yards per target from 2017-20 remains above-average.
The biggest reason for Coleman’s decline in receiving production is the fact that his teams just stopped featuring him as prominently as he was in 2016. Here is how often Coleman has been targeted in terms of receiving snaps (snaps in which he ran out as a potential target in the passing game) per target:
- 2016 (ATL): One target every 4.2 receiving snaps (2020 RB average: 5.0)
- 2017 (ATL): 6.9
- 2018 (ATL): 6.7
- 2019 (SF): 5.7
- 2020 (SF): 5.2
Here are Coleman’s averages in targets per game:
- 2016 (ATL): 3.1
- 2017 (ATL): 2.6
- 2018 (ATL): 2.8
- 2019 (SF): 2.1
- 2020 (SF): 0.6
I do not think Coleman’s steady downfall in receiving yardage is much to be concerned about. His per-target efficiency has remained well-above-average even if he has not been able to return to the monumental heights of his 2016 season. He simply hasn’t been given as many opportunities.
Coleman’s durability track record isn’t terrible, but it is a bit worrisome. He has played in 78 out of 96 possible regular season games, an 81.3% portion and an average of 13.0 games per year. However, he missed a career-high eight games in 2020 due to a knee injury that landed him on injured reserve in the middle of the season. Coleman was phased out of the Niners offense following his injury, getting only 10 carries and one target over six games after his return.
Coleman is a good fit for the heavily zone-based running scheme the Jets are poised to run. Of his 693 career rushing attempts, 71.4% of them were zone runs.
Despite his solid numbers as a pass-catcher, Coleman has not been featured in the passing game at a level that matches his efficiency. He has been targeted once every 5.6 receiving snaps throughout his career, below the 2020 running back average of 5.0.
Coleman isn’t much of a downfield threat. While he caught three passes over 10 yards downfield in 2016, he has caught only three of those passes combined over his other five seasons. He does most of his receiving damage as a checkdown and short-range option who is more dangerous with the ball than most. Coleman is averaging 9.8 yards after the catch per reception for his career, a good deal above the 2020 positional average (7.5).
Sticking with the theme that he is mostly a short option and doesn’t offer much downfield, you shouldn’t expect an abnormal amount of alignment versatility from Coleman, either. For his career, he has lined up in the slot on 5.7% of his passing game snaps and out wide on 9.8%, lining up in the backfield at a very normal rate of 84.5% (the 2020 RB average was 85.0%).
Perhaps the Falcons and 49ers were wrong to deploy Coleman that way, and the Jets should consider using him in the slot more often. He has been ridiculously efficient when flexed out there. Over 64 career receiving snaps in the slot, Coleman has caught 15-of-16 targets for 324 yards and three touchdowns. That’s 20.3 yards per target and 5.06 yards per route run – downright insane production.
While it’s not the bread-and-butter of his game, let’s begin by taking a few looks at Coleman’s flashes in the slot. His efficiency in this role has been astronomical, and because of that, the Jets should think hard about flexing him out at a much higher frequency than the Falcons or 49ers ever did.
This play against the Jets in Week 2 of the 2020 season was Coleman’s only catch out of the slot all season – on one of the mere two snaps in which he was sent out there. Coleman flexes out into the right slot and runs a post route, cutting about 10 yards downfield. He shows great spatial awareness as he gets enough depth to clear the underneath defender but stays shallow enough to remain beneath the safety. Coleman goes down and pulls in a contested ball. Nice route, great catch.