Chase Coffman is in an interesting position heading into training camp. He has a chance to carve out a significant role on offense if he continues to have a good summer. He’s already gotten extensive reps with the first team during OTAs and minicamps due to the absences of Tony Gonzalez and Levine Toilolo, and taken advantage of it according to head coach Mike Smith. That should benefit him this summer as he seeks to carve out a roster spot.
Coffman won’t be guaranteed a roster spot, but the extra work with the starters this spring and summer should give him a significant leg up. The strength of Coffman’s game lies in his receiving ability. He has excellent hands and a very good catch radius. It was one of the reasons which prompted him to be 28th-ranked player in my 2009 draft preview and allowed him to make a key grab against the Seahawks in the playoffs.
But Coffman has struggled to find a role in the NFL because of his lacking abilities as a blocker. Coffman essentially played wide receiver during his days at Missouri, lining up in the slot and splitting out wide as a tight end. While such a player is en vogue nowadays in the NFL, Coffman simply doesn’t have the ideal speed and burst to be a guy that can really shine in that role in say the way that players like Delanie Walker, Jared Cook, Aaron Hernandez, or Dennis Pitta can.
This creates issue with him separating from coverage. That was the same problem that plagued Michael Palmer when he was in Atlanta. He just wasn’t a player that could reliably beat man coverage, which is necessary to be a consistent producer at the NFL level. Because of Coffman’s excellent hands, body control, and ability to go and get the ball, that is not as big a flaw in his game as it was in Palmer’s. But again, he hasn’t shown himself capable of being the type of player that can consistently do that in order to carve out a key role on offense.
Also hurting Coffman’s potential to produce is simply the fact that he is surrounded by a ton of talent here in Atlanta, namely from the team’s top three receivers in Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez. Not to mention the presence of Harry Douglas and backs like Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers, on any given play Coffman is only likely to be the fifth and final option for Matt Ryan to throw to. At best that probably only allows for 1 or 2 targets to go Coffman’s way most weeks.
But for him, the key will be taking advantage of those opportunities. In order to do so he’s going to have to continue his progress into the summer. Coffman needs to showcase himself to be a more effective run blocker. Tony Gonzalez isn’t going to leave the field very often, and given the talent the Falcons have outside at wide receiver, the primary function of the second tight end will likely be blocking.
That’s what prompted the team to draft Levine Toilolo, and why a player like Tommy Gallarda is still in a good position to make an impact this year as he was the team’s best blocking tight end last year. While Coffman is probably not going to be able to surpass either player as an inline blocker, he needs to show that he can at least be competent. Last year, backup tight ends combined for 273 snaps (about 17 per game) and over 60% of them required them to either run or pass block (per Pro Football Focus). Coffman only received 8 of those snaps, none of which requiring him to block. If he intends to eat into this reps, improvement as a blocker will be required.
Barring injury, the Falcons probably won’t be expecting huge things out of Coffman this year. While he may not see a ton of passes thrown his way even if he manages to beat out Toilolo and Gallarda for the No. 2 job behind Gonzalez, the key for him will be to make the most out of the opportunities given to him. It’s a similar approach that running back Jacquizz Rodgers will have this year. A great year from Coffman may only amount to 20 or so catches. A solid year could leave that figure in the single digits. But whatever Coffman does this season will play heavily into his future in Atlanta and the NFL. Gonzalez is playing his final year in Atlanta. And the more Coffman does in 2013 will equal to less the team will have to do in 2014 to replace him.