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2024 NFL Draft

Next Puka Nacua? Under the Radar WR Jalen Coker Could be Perfect Fit for Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers could have a receiver fit staring themselves right in the face with Holy Cross WR Jalen Coker.



Pittsburgh Steelers WR Jalen Coker
Photo by Mark Selinger -- Holy Cross Athletics of WR Jalen Coker

FRISCO, Texas — Jalen Coker is a soft-spoken young man who about his business silently. Before I talked to him on Thursday in Frisco, Coker was studying the playbook coaches had laid out for them this week. Once you get to talking to Coker, he’s not a rowdy person, but there is a knowing confidence about him. So, it can be a leap when you get an even like the Shrine Bowl, with teams like the Steelers in attendance.

That is to say, coming from a school like Holy Cross, it can already be hard to make a name for yourself. But Coker has done that and then some. At 6-foot-3, Coker has smoothness and quickness in and out of his breaks like few have for his size. He separates with less-than-polished routes, and on top of that, Coker is a three-level threat who can house-call a pass on a five-yard drag or a twenty-yard dig.

Those traits make him stand out in this class, even compared to many other receivers at the Shrine Bowl and Senior Bowl. But the trait that makes him fascinating? His blocking skills. Coker is a big guy with a thick frame who does not lay off in the run game. He can do it if teams want him in a condensed set, power slot role, or somewhere along those lines. And Coker pointed out one specific name that inspires his actions as a blocker: Puka Nacua.

“Everyone can make the catches or make those amazing one-handed catches, but not everyone wants to block,” Coker said. “I’ve always felt like it was a way to get myself noticed and something that is gritty. It shows some dawg in you. That stuff gets you on the field. Blocking has always been something we’ve done at Holy Cross, so it’s something I do. The big runs happen when the receivers block. When the receivers block, five extra yards might swing the game. You never know when it will come in handy.”

Nacua is an exciting name. But from last year at the Senior Bowl, another name popped into my head, too. That would be Bengals wide receiver Andrei Iosivas. Teams are telling Coker that hia all-around skillset is appreciated, but his routes can become crisper, especially off the line with releases and finishing those off at the top.

“All of those teams, they are saying that even though I get open, I can do more as a route runner,” Coker said. “You know, sharpen my releases, stem this route a little bit better, sharpen it at the top of my route. I just feel like that’s the biggest thing I need to work on.”

Coker’s not a finished product, but he’s a guy who is tough as nails, can win over the middle of the field, and has some great build-up speed that makes him a vertical threat and someone who can get going after the catch. He is the model of someone like Iosvias, Nacua, or even Jauan Jennings. If the Steelers are going to move more into a gap run scheme or work out of these condensed sets within the McVay tree, someone like Coker makes a ton of sense to target.

The detail in which he talks about his process is where he got me, too. Coker is a knowledgeable route runner and football player. He wants to change the tempo of routes to create more separation. The nuance within his routes is growing but not fully there, but the tools and willingness to work are there.

“You know, I go out there and work that tempo, getting to full speed, and adding another layer to my game,” Coker said on his route running. “All of that allows to be a three-level threat. That’s what I want to be, and so little things like that, it’s how you take a leap.”

Coker could be an easy riser this week. Someone usually comes out during the Shrine Bowl and lights the event on fire. Like the Senior Bowl, someone is usually on the upward trajectory at wide receiver. My bet is for that guy this week to be Coker simply due to the all-around parts of his game that he possesses.