Inside Corey Coleman’s journey from NFL first pick to USFL champion

It was spring of 2016 in Chicago, and Corey Coleman – the defending Biletnikoff Award winner – found himself waiting patiently in the green room of the NFL Draft in Grant Park, hoping to hear his name called by NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell.

A dynamic wide receiver capable of playing with jaw-dropping speed, Coleman was fresh off a record-breaking season at Baylor, where he set Big 12 opponents on fire for a total of 74 catches for 1,363 yards and 20 touchdowns. He had trained for several NFL teams that would have to pick midway through the first round and was eagerly awaiting where he would begin the initial chapter of his pro football career.

“I knew I was going to go to the first round, but I thought I was going to Houston at No. 20,” said Coleman, who joined FOX Sports College football analyst RJ Young as a guest this week on his podcast, “The number one college football show with RJ Young.” “I talked to the coaches all week before the draft. They came to Baylor, I met the whole organization, so I figured that’s where I was going.”

Corey Coleman’s trip to the USFL

Corey Coleman's trip to the USFL

RJ Young is joined by Philadelphia Stars wide receiver Corey Coleman, who talks about his journey as a first-round NFL draft pick and his accomplishments in the USFL.

Much to Coleman’s surprise, it was the Cleveland Browns who moved up to No. 15 and selected the speedster. Two weeks later, Coleman would sign a four-year, $11.65 million deal with the Browns and the start of his NFL journey had officially begun.

Coleman’s NFL career started with a bang, as he collected two catches for 69 yards in a Week 1 game against the Philadelphia Eagles, and then followed that up with an impressive five catch, 104 yard, and two touchdown outing against the Baltimore Crows in week 2.

The 2015 All-American lived up to his billing, adding excitement to an NFL franchise that was coming off a 3-13 campaign and hadn’t won double-digit games since 2007.

But then, Coleman suffered a broken hand in practice leading up to a Week 3 matchup against the Miami Dolphins and was ruled out for 4-6 weeks. He would return to action in November, but never returned to full fitness, failing to record more than 41 receiving yards in any game the rest of the season.

The following season, Coleman got off to a flying start once again, setting the Pittsburgh Steelers secondary on fire for five catches for 53 yards and a touchdown in Week 1. But unfortunate circumstances struck again, as the former first-round selection he broke the same hand he was injured the previous year, this time requiring surgery which would have sidelined him for another 6-8 weeks. Again, Coleman returned to action late in the season, but he was never the same.

After requesting a trade before the 2018 season, Coleman spent the next two years rebounding, though he only saw action with the New York Giants (eight games, 2018). After being released by the Chiefs prior to the 2022 NFL season, Coleman made the decision to sign with the Philadelphia Stars of the USFL in February 2023 which resulted in a prosperous relationship for both parties.

While playing in the USFL wasn’t where Coleman envisioned his career going when he was selected by the Browns in the first round in 2016, he was pleasantly surprised by the experience and competition around the league.

“There’s talent in the USFL,” Coleman said. “There are some guys who can actually dance.”

Standing 5 foot 11 tall with blazing speed and elite playmaking skills, Coleman is definitely one of those guys. Entering Week 7 of the USFL season, Coleman ranks third in the league in receptions (30) and receiving yards (334). He’s fresh off a game of six catches and 76 yards for the Stars in a 16-10 win over the New Orleans Breakers.

Coleman is quick to credit one of his teammates, Amani Dennis, a defender Coleman is pitted against in practice every week.

“I just remember, at camp, we were just getting busy,” Coleman said of her relationship with Dennis. “I’m going to him, giving everything I’ve got, and I’m always saying, ‘hey, this is going to pay off.'”

While Dennis is credited with helping Coleman develop on the driving range, it is the Philadelphia Stars organization that holds a special place in Coleman’s heart.

“I just want to thank them for giving me a chance,” Coleman said. “They’ve given me the opportunity to come here and really show that I can still play this game at a high level.”

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