In Week 9, Florida State WR Keon Coleman went up against Wake Forest CB Caelen Carson without any backup. Johnny Wilson was injured, and Coleman was left isolated against Carson on many reps. And yet, it ended up being one of his best games yet as a 2024 NFL Draft prospect.

Keon Coleman Proves Himself Against Early-Round Competition at CB

Coleman is firmly in the WR2 mix behind Marvin Harrison Jr. — competing with the likes of LSU’s Malik Nabers, Washington’s Rome Odunze, and Ohio State’s Emeka Egbuka.

Coleman doesn’t have near the amount of volume as a pass-catcher that Odunze and Nabers have. And yet, he’s reminded us once again that, from a traits-based approach, he absolutely belongs in that conversation.

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In the first half alone, against a Wake Forest secondary that boasts potential early-round pick Caelen Carson, Coleman caught five passes for 60 yards and two touchdowns.

Coleman’s first touchdown came on a screen, where the 6’4″, 215-pound receiver managed to scrape by a pursuing Carson and reach pay dirt with his speed.

Coleman’s second touchdown was much more impressive. On that play, Coleman lined up against Carson on a boundary fade to the end zone.

Carson draped Coleman to the pylon, and yet, Coleman was still able to come up with the TD grab with an otherworldly adjustment and one-handed catch, showing off his timing, coordination, and play strength in contested situations.

Now, through seven and a half games, Coleman is up to 36 catches for 532 yards and nine touchdowns in 2023. It’s not elite production all-around — not the kind of production that signifies an early first-round pick — but the tape tells a different story.

Coleman is that guy. He’s a complete three-level threat, a dynamic RAC weapon and mismatch against smaller defensive backs, and a dominating red zone threat who can win 1-on-1 for NFL offenses.

Caelen Carson Up and Down vs. Coleman but Gives Reason for Optimism

Being isolated against Keon Coleman was ultimately not a great situation for Caelen Carson to be in this week. Carson had his fair share of good reps, but the margin for error is much slimmer against a near blue-chip talent like Coleman.

On Coleman’s first touchdown catch, Carson took too narrow of an angle in run support, grazing past Coleman as the Seminoles receiver side-stepped him to find space.

On the second touchdown, Carson met Coleman with great man coverage out of the snap. He matched Coleman stride-for-stride and stuck to his hip. But when the time came to get his head around and track the football, Carson wasn’t quick enough, and Coleman took advantage.

Carson’s first half against Florida State, on paper, was one of his rougher halves of the season. But there were silver linings for the Demon Deacons’ 2024 NFL Draft prospect.

Carson had some very good reps early on in the game. He played Coleman tough, and closed on the ball quickly when targets came near the line of scrimmage.

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Carson nearly snagged in interception by reading Jordan Travis upfield, and his best rep came on a whip route out of the slot. On that rep, he perfectly matched Coleman on his lateral adjustments, and suffocated the 6’4″ receiver at the catch point.

If anything, this game showed where Carson can still improve. He’s an adept playmaker, but he can still improve at tracking and adjusting to the football in tight situations, as well as playing the ball through the catch point. And while he’s aggressive and tenacious in support, he can improve his angles and tackling form.

But at the same time, this game also showed that talent isn’t an issue with Carson. He clearly had the athleticism to match up with Coleman and avoid giving space. His reaction speed wasn’t at all an issue. Cornerback is simply a very detail-oriented position, and Carson is still honing in on the little things.

Looking at him within the lens of a 2024 NFL Draft prospect, there’s still plenty to be excited about with Carson, and one rough game against an arguable top-ten talent isn’t going to change that.

In a 2024 NFL Draft CB class that’s fairly wide open past the top-five, physical tools and competitive mindset will be paramount. Carson is not at all lacking in that department, and that’s why he should still command interest in the early rounds.

Ian Cummings is an NFL Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Ian’s work here and follow him on Twitter: @IC_Draft.

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