There was a time before this “what have you done for me lately” era, when players who suited up with debilitating injuries were respected for wanting to play through it, contributing any way that they could. Last season, the Steelers had one such player in Sammie Coates, who despite two broken fingers, kept suiting up to help out any way he could because his team needed him to. Prior to his injury, Coates played a large role in the Steelers 4-1 start last season while filling in for the suspended Martavis Bryant. During those first five games, Coates hauled in 19 passes for 421 yards and 2 touchdowns, leading all receivers in the NFL with 6 receptions of 40+ yards. He had one reception of at least 40 yards in each of those five games which is the second longest streak of its kind in team history. Just as it seemed Sammie Coates was getting started on a monster season, it all came to a screeching halt.
During the Steelers week 5 matchup with the Jets, while putting up a career best 137 yards and 2 touchdowns on 6 receptions, Coates suffered two nasty broken fingers which put the kibosh on his breakout season, leaving the Steelers without a reliable number two receiver. Instead of calling it quits, as he could have, Sammie was determined to continue contributing on special teams, making numerous plays, including a 44 yard kick return, the longest since Emmanuel Sanders 46 yard return in 2013. On offense, Coates may have only caught two more passes for 14 yards, over the last 11 games, but because of his deep speed, he still had value serving as a decoy to help free up space for Antonio Brown. Since Sammie could still get open deep, Ben occasionally threw the ball to him on the chance it could pay off, and with each incompletion, Coates was further crucified, referred to by some as the second coming of Limas Sweed.
The fact is, the criticism that Sammie Coates received wasn’t fair for three reasons. First, Sammie Coates was the most explosive receiver in the NFL over the first five weeks, catching almost 68% of the passes thrown his way, proving what he is capable of being in this offense. The second reason is that he did what was asked of him on offense, which was to use his speed to help keep secondaries honest, and to help open things up for Antonio Brown. Just because he couldn’t catch passes with just one good hand doesn’t mean he wasn’t serving a purpose. The third reason Coates is undeserving of the criticism, is that despite his injury, he enthusiastically turned himself into a decent gunner on the kick coverage unit as another way to help the team when they needed him to.
Sammie Coates has proven that he is a man who puts the team ahead of himself. When he willingly stuck around and did what was asked of him, rather than packing it in for the year, his effort should have been appreciated and respected. Instead, he was crucified, simply because he was unable catch a ball with the one good hand he had, which is a bit ridiculous. If it weren’t for an injury beyond his control, the talk about Coates now might be whether or not he deserved to keep the spot opposite Antonio Brown. It’s time to cut the man some slack and respect his efforts as a whole last season, because what he did is what we have always expected out of a player for the Steelers, he found a way to compete any way he could with what he had to give.