Amari Coleman (left) and teammate Josh Cox (right) attend the Collegiate Bowl in January, 2018
Central Michigan cornerback Amari Coleman was riding high heading into the 2017 collegiate season. After coming off of a First Team All-MAC campaign in which saw him intercept four passes and run back two for touchdowns as a Junior, he went into 2017 on the Jim Thorpe award watch list for best DB in the nation.
Being on the Thorpe watch list should be a good indicator of a draftable DB but Coleman saw some minor statistical regressions in 2017 and more flaws in his game surfaced that likely caused him to miss out on the NFL draft parade. That being said, he has a legitimate chance to make the Detroit Lions practice squad and a long shot chance to make the 53 man roster come September.
Here’s the part where I start to compare him to the guy in the title and new Lions coach Matt Patricia’s greatest UDFA success story, Malcolm Butler.
The athletic similarities between Coleman and Butler pretty much begin and end with their physical measurements. Both guys measure in at about 5 ft 11 in and around 190 lbs. If you look at the pro days for both, Amari Coleman outdoes Malcolm Butler in literally everything. Coleman comes into the NFL as a faster, quicker, stronger, and overall just more athletic player than Butler was coming out, all while being about the same size.
Coleman also comes into the league with a more decorated and clean track record than that of Butler. While Butler was kicked off his freshman JuCo team and only ended up as a two year player in Division II, Coleman comes into the league after being a three year starter at a Division I program in Central Michigan.
During his time at CMU, Coleman was able to compile more tackles, interceptions, and pass breakups than Butler did all while playing “better” competition. I use quotes because I saw a lot of Amari Coleman’s games in person and MAC quarterbacks tend to be very bad. Honestly, I’m not sure how much better they are than quarterbacks in the Gulf South Conference that Butler played in.
With that being said, there has to be an explanation for why a player who came into 2017 on the Thorpe watch list went undrafted. A few legitimate gripes did arise over the course of Coleman’s career which led to him falling. Coleman tends to struggle when it comes to looking back for the ball when defending passes downfield and he can get beat over the top by taller players.
If I had to compare him to someone on the Lions roster it would probably be Nevin Lawson but a taller, slightly slower, and more athletic version of him. You could also consider his 3 interceptions as a senior a lack of production, especially when looking at how many solid NFL corners come out of the MAC (there aren’t many).
Barring some type of injury to the Lions cornerback depth chart, there is little to no chance that Coleman will see the field this season especially on defense. But some time to develop under coach Patricia and mesh with teammates at the NFL level should be good for him. It will be interesting to see if coach Patricia will be able to get Malcolm Butler-like production out of a UDFA during his time in Detroit.