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2019 Buffalo Bills free-agent target profile: Tevin Coleman

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The electric Atlanta Falcons running back has an underwhelming stat sheet throughout his career, but Buffalo would benefit from signing him

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps you’re among the contingent of Buffalo Bills fans who feels the team needs a change at the running back position. Whether you think that the Bills should replace LeSean McCoy, Chris Ivory, or both of the Bills’ top backs from 2018, you agree that the team needs some new blood in the offensive backfield. If you think the team can upgrade the offensive line and wait for a pair of 31-year-old rushers to return to their past glory, well, we’ll have to agree to disagree.

Tevin Coleman, the Atlanta Falcons’ lightning to teammate Devonta Freeman’s thunder throughout the last four seasons, is an unrestricted free agent. At 25, the talented former third-round draft choice out of Indiana is likely to be the top name on the market (depending on a team’s willingness to commit to Le’Veon Bell, who has not played in an NFL game since January 14, 2018).

For the Bills, a change on the offensive side of the ball is essential to helping quarterback Josh Allen take the next step in his progression. Adding talented players at all ten of the “other” positions on the offense aside from quarterback is a must for general manager Brandon Beane. Adding a dynamic running back like Coleman, who is as good a receiver as he is a rusher, could only benefit Allen and the Bills’ offense as a whole.


Scheme Fit

Tevin Coleman’s first NFL offensive coordinator was Kyle Shanahan, who is the current head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Like his father, legendary head coach Mike Shanahan, he deploys a zone-based blocking scheme. Chris Morgan, the Falcons’ offensive-line coach, was an assistant under Tom Cable, widely regarded as one of the league’s top offensive-line coaches. He is another zone-blocking specialist.

With Buffalo’s new offensive-line coach, Bobby Johnson, entering his first year as the offensive line coach rather than the assistant offensive line coach, we can only speculate as to the scheme he will prefer. However, Johnson’s time working with Jo D’Alessandris and Dave DeGuglielmo—both zone-block proponents—suggests that he, too, will deploy a zone-heavy scheme. With an offensive line that is sure to be rebuilt, adding a new running back to complement the rebuilt talent would be a good move on Buffalo’s part.

Stats

Coleman had his first chance to be the lead back this season, as teammate Devonta Freeman missed the majority of the year due to injury. Coleman played in all 16 games for the first time in his four-year career, making 14 starts. He tallied 800 yards and four touchdowns on 165 carries, an average of 4.8 yards per attempt. His explosiveness is evident, but why didn’t he gain more yardage if he was the lead back?

Atlanta only ran the ball 351 times in 2018, which was third-fewest in the league. Buffalo, on the other hand, ran the ball 468 times, which was tied for the sixth-most in 2018. If Coleman were to have carried the ball 200 times, a plateau LeSean McCoy cleared easily when fully healthy in 2017, then Coleman would have had 960 rushing yards at his 4.8 yards-per-carry average. It’s a safe bet that a player like Coleman, given his youth and ability, would run the ball even more in an offense like Buffalo’s.

For his career, Coleman has 528 carries, 2,340 rushing yards, and 18 touchdowns. He is not only a solid rusher, however, as his receiving ability makes him a true three-down threat. In 2018, he caught 32 passes for 276 yards and five receiving touchdowns. For his career, he has 92 receptions, 1,010 receiving yards, and 11 receiving touchdowns.

Coleman also has never played more than 54% of the Falcons’ offensive snaps—a high-water mark that he reached this season. Even though he was clearly the more talented back, the Falcons still went with Ito Smith on 29% of the team’s snaps. Smith gained 315 rushing yards on 90 carries, an average of 3.5 yards per attempt. He also managed four rushing touchdowns and 27 receptions for 152 yards. If Coleman were to leave, moving to a team that offered him a more advanced role within the offense, he would shine.

What Will He Cost?

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution speculates that the starting point for a Coleman contract will be the one signed last offseason by Jerrick McKinnon. It should surprise no one that the 49ers, with Kyle Shanahan coaching, were the team to sign McKinnon. Coleman and McKinnon have very similar career numbers, and McKinnon signed a four-year deal worth $30 million last March.

Coleman has great size at 6’1” and 210 pounds, and he also possesses electric breakaway speed, posting a 4.4-second forty-yard dash time at his pro day in 2015. His NFL career has been one full of big-plays, as well, as he has logged a rush of over 50 yards in each of the last three seasons; he also has a reception of at least 39 yards in each of the last three years. For comparison, McCoy’s longest rush last year went for 28 yards, and his longest reception went for 24.

If Coleman can be signed for $30 million over four years, the Bills should jump at the chance. For what it’s worth, Spotrac calculates Coleman’s market value a bit lower than McKinnon’s, giving Coleman a four-year deal at $20 million, which would be a tremendous steal for Buffalo. My issue with that comparison is that he’s being compared to McKinnon, Isaiah Crowell, Rex Burkhead, and Dion Lewis. Coleman is far more talented—and has been more productive—than Crowell and Burkhead, and Lewis signed his contract coming off of an ACL tear, so those comps may be weighing him down unnecessarily.

McKinnon’s four-year deal contained $18 million in guaranteed money, which would probably be a good starting point for Coleman, as well. If weighing it on percentage, guaranteeing him 60% of the contract regardless of its total value may be enough. Either way, signing Coleman would be a good “get” for Brandon Beane and company.


Overhauling the offense is something that has to happen if the Bills are going to compete in 2019 and beyond. In order to overhaul the team, the Bills have to be aggressive in pursuing and acquiring talent. A player of Tevin Coleman’s ability level, given his age, relative lack of wear and tear, and explosiveness, makes him a perfect fit in offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s offense. When free agency opens in March, Buffalo should be on the phone with Coleman’s representation as soon as possible.