Inside Corey Coleman's journey from first-round NFL pick to USFL standout
Corey Coleman never envisioned himself in the USFL, but he's impressed by what he's seen. "There are some guys that can really ball," he said.
It was the spring of 2016 in Chicago, and Corey Coleman — the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner — found himself waiting patiently in the green room at the NFL Draft in Grant Park, hoping to hear his name called by NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell.
A dynamic, play-making wide receiver with jaw-dropping speed, Coleman was fresh off a record-setting season at Baylor where he torched Big 12 opponents to the tune of 74 catches for 1,363 yards and 20 touchdowns. He had worked out for several NFL teams slated to pick in the middle of the first round and was anxiously awaiting to find out where he would begin the opening chapter of his professional football career.
"I knew I was going in 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 the whole week leading up to the draft. They came to Baylor, I met with the whole organization, so I thought that was where I was going."
Much to Coleman’s surprise, it was the Cleveland Browns who traded up to No. 15 and selected the speedster. Two weeks later, Coleman would sign a four-year, $11.65 million contract with the Browns and the start of his NFL journey was officially underway.
Coleman’s NFL career began with a bang, as he hauled in two catches for 69 yards in a Week 1 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, and then followed that up with an impressive five-catch, 104-yard, two-touchdown outing against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2.
The 2015 All-American was living up to his billing, adding excitement to an NFL franchise that was coming off of a 3-13 campaign and hadn’t won double-digit games since 2007.
But then, Coleman suffered a broken hand during practice leading up to a Week 3 matchup against the Miami Dolphins and was ruled out for 4–6 weeks. He would make his return to the field in November, but never fully returned to form, failing to record more than 41 receiving yards in any game the remainder of the season.
The following season, Coleman got off to a hot start once again, torching the Pittsburgh Steelers’ secondary for five catches for 53 yards and a touchdown in Week 1. But unfortunate circumstances struck again, as the former first-round selection broke the same hand he injured the previous year, this time requiring surgery that would sideline him for another 6-8 weeks. Once again, Coleman returned to action late in the season but was never the same.
After requesting a trade ahead of the 2018 season, Coleman spent the next couple of years bouncing around, though he only saw action with the New York Giants (eight games, 2018). After being released by the Chiefs ahead of the 2022 NFL season, Coleman made the decision to sign with the Philadelphia Stars of the USFL in February 2023, which has led to a prospering relationship for both parties.
While playing in the USFL was not where Coleman envisioned his career going when he was selected by the Browns in the first round in 2016, he has been pleasantly surprised by the experience and the competition throughout the league.
"There is some talent in the USFL," Coleman said. "There are some guys that can really ball."
At 5-foot-11 with blazing speed and elite playmaking ability, Coleman is certainly one of those guys. Heading into Week 7 of the USFL season, Coleman ranks third in the league in receptions (30) and receiving yards (334). He is fresh off a six-catch, 76-yard outing 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 defensive back who Coleman gets to go up against in practice every week.
"I just remember, in camp, we were going at it," Coleman said of his relationship with Dennis. "I’m going at him, giving everything that I have, and I always say, ‘hey, this is going to pay off.’"
While Dennis gets the credit for helping Coleman develop on the practice field, it is the Philadelphia Stars' organization that holds a special place in Coleman’s heart.
"I just really want to give thanks to them for giving me a chance," Coleman said. "They gave me the opportunity to come in here and really show that I can still play this game at a high level."