This article was published by the Detroit Free Press.
Note: When the Lions released Reggie Bush, they made it clear they wanted to revamp their running back corps. With Bush departed, there is ample room for an upgrade. Joique Bell, Theo Riddick and George Winn remain in the fold, but the Lions desperately lack a true home run threat out of the backfield. They will add another back before training camp, likely through the 2015 NFL draft.
Despite breaking his right big toe in week five of the 2014 season, Tevin Coleman ran rampant on opponents and re-wrote the Indiana record books.
The Indiana Hoosier tore apart respected Big Ten defenses, rushing for 132 yards on just 15 carries against Michigan State, and 228 yards and three scores against Ohio State—the eventual national champions—in late November.
Coleman is a one-cut, downhill runner who takes what the defense gives him. He rarely abandons the designed play to run rogue like he were starring in an “NCAA Football” video game. He is disciplined and methodical in his running approach.
Coleman underwent surgery in December to fix his toe, so he did not participate in drills at February’s NFL Combine. He is planning to work out for teams at Indiana’s Pro Day, two weeks before the draft.
At 5-113/8 and 206 pounds, Coleman has blazing speed and is the definition of a home run hitter. He led the nation with touchdown runs of 30-plus yards (9 TDs), 40-plus (8 TDs), 50-plus (6 TD) and 60-plus (5 TDs), and tied for the lead with three touchdowns of 70 yards or more. Coleman’s average touchdown distance last season was an astounding 40.3 yards.
Let’s examine Coleman’s tape to see why he is a dynamic playmaker.
Despite an anemic passing offense that ranked 122 (out of 128 teams) in the nation in yards per game, Tevin Coleman was the second-leading rusher in college football with 2,036 yards last season on 7.5 yards per carry. He earned two first places votes in the Heisman Trophy voting, finishing seventh, particularly impressive considering his team finished with a 4-8 record.
As evidenced by his insane amount of long distance touchdown runs, Coleman has breakaway speed on tape. He ran away from the Buckeyes on this 90-yard touchdown sprint.
First, note how Coleman patiently follows his blockers while reading the linebackers. He sets the defense up by leaning inside behind his backside pulling guard. This allows the guard to pin both linebackers inside, and opens a huge running lane on the edge. Watch Coleman turn on the jets once he finds the alley.
With Coleman bursting into the secondary, the safety doesn’t anticipate Coleman’s speed and takes a poor angle, allowing Coleman to shoot past him.
Later in the game, Coleman does a phenomenal job of contorting his body to angle away from the safety (No. 16), getting skinny as he bursts through the second and third levels of the defense.
As you can see, it only takes one false step by the defenders and Coleman is gone.
Coleman has good vision as an outside runner and has the necessary cognitive ability to read the defense as he approaches the line. This was an impressive run by Coleman. He presses the hole to the inside to set up his slot receiver’s block on the linebacker, which opens up another gaping running lane on the edge. This initial cut forces the safety to step to the inside and if not for a missed block by the outside receiver, Coleman likely picks up 20 yards instead of 10.
On this 69-yard touchdown against Iowa, Coleman finds daylight between the tackles. The linebacker fills the gap he was supposed to run through so at the last second, Coleman cuts slightly left. He shimmies through a nook and barrels through the arms of a stunned Carl Davis, a likely first round pick.
Once Coleman has a head of steam in the open field, he’s usually headed for six. He has work to do as an inside runner but this play against Iowa was encouraging.
Coleman is not a particularity elusive or shifty runner. However, he is a good athlete who can make one cut and rifle past a defender.
This is Coleman at his best. He identifies the open lane, sticks his foot in the ground to turn upfield, makes one move and blasts past the defense.
Coleman is not afraid of contact and shows a competitiveness and toughness that you like in a running back. However, he lacks a strong power base and his ability to take on NFL caliber defenders and win with strength is a concern.
Against Michigan, Coleman is stonewalled at the line of scrimmage for no gain. With the running start he had, Coleman should have been able to bust through the contact, but he does not get low enough and is unable to generate the proper power.
He falls forward on many of his runs, but against NFL defenders he may struggle to consistently win unless he is able to gain better leverage at the point of attack.
One interesting observation you make when watching Coleman play is that he always carries the ball in his left hand. Most running backs will initially put the ball in their outside arm on plays run off tackle. This frees up their inside arm to ward off tacklers and keeps the ball away from the interior of the defense. Yet Coleman always holds the ball with his left hand and that can be a detriment at times.
On this stretch run to the right, you see Coleman unable to stiff arm the defensive tackle who makes the play.
If Coleman had carried the ball in his right hand like most tailbacks, he may have been able to fend off the defender and gain a chunk of yardage.
Coleman has shown the ability to block effectively in pass protection, though he still has work to do. He displays promising technique by attacking and extending his arms against defenders to maintain leverage.
As a receiver, he has soft hands and uses his speed to his advantage in the open field. He produced 25 receptions for 141 yards last season.
Coleman’s high-cut running style and lightning speed reminds many of Darren McFadden, the fourth overall pick by the Oakland Raiders in 2008. NFL.com draft analyst Bucky Brooks noted, “When I look at Tevin Coleman I see the same running style (as McFadden), the same flashes, the same teases of brilliance.”
NFL Network’s Mike Mayock also sees McFadden when watching Coleman, while others have mentioned newly signed Eagles back DeMarco Murray.
Coleman has a second or third round grade on most draft boards because of his rare ability to make game-changing plays anytime he touches the football.
Indiana ran almost exclusively from the shotgun in the spread offense, so there would be some projection in his ability to run from under-center. This is a minor concern, yet it is fair to question how he may transition to a pro-style running scheme.
The Lions were interested enough in Coleman to host him at the facility on March 6, and they certainly could use his big play ability to complement the physical Bell and shifty Riddick. Last season, the Lions finished tied for 27th in the NFL with only six runs of 20 yards or more and gained 40 yards or more on the ground just once.
With Coleman’s prolific playmaking ability, he would give the team some much-needed juice in the backfield.
Credit to Draft Breakdown for the game film. All Illustrations and GIFs were created by Marlowe Alter for the purpose of reporting, commenting and critiquing.