Very Deep Sleeper: Keelan Cole (Fantasy Football)
This piece is part of our article program that features quality content from experts exclusively at FantasyPros. For more insight from R.C. head to Fantasy Football Metrics.
Somebody who I trust was observing early Jacksonville Jaguars practices this summer and contacted me and asked, “What do you know about undrafted rookie free agent wide receiver Keelan Cole?” I will spend the first half of a calendar year looking at analytics data on 600+ prospects for the NFL Draft and using that to study more deeply about 150-200+ players each draft season. I usually catch most draft prospects that have any kind of pulse by the time training camps start up. It’s rare that I am I asked about one and respond, “Who?”
But that’s what I did here.
I didn’t have Keelan Cole on my radar – a Division II wide receiver prospect from Kentucky Wesleyan, a cornerback prospect converted to wide receiver in college. When I looked at his pre-draft workout data, I was curious to learn more – 6′1″/194 and ran a so-so 4.59 40-time at his Pro Day, but did lay down an elite level 6.69 three-cone. That’s NFL size and athleticism, on paper.
When I looked up his performance in college, some eye-popping numbers, as you would hope for an NFL prospect working at the D2 level…
2015: (10 games) 7.3 catches, 134.5 receiving yards, 1.7 TDs per game…catching 53% of his team’s TD passes. He also returned a kick for a 100-yard TD.
2016: (11 games)…a different, weaker passing game for Cole to work with – and he caught 5.2 passes per game with 140.1 receiving yards and 1.4 TDs per game – a stunning 68% of his team’s TD passes for the season.
OK, at a glance, we have a legit athlete for the NFL, per the workout numbers. We have D2 statistical/output dominance that we like to see from lower division prospects. Then I go watch any tape I can get, and it’s a lot of grainy footage in games played on fields lesser than many high school fields. It’s hard to contextualize Cole to the NFL working against inferior talent on non-HD video footage. He looked like he was toying with opponents, mostly, bored with them.
Once my friend pointed him out, and I looked at the data, I put him on the radar and moved on. The next thing I see is Cole working with the Jags’ second team in Week 1 of the preseason-and then like a lightning strike, he catches a 97-yard TD pass, blazing by New England high 2016 draft pick CB Cyrus Jones. Cole would finish with two catches for 108 yards and a TD versus the Patriots while working ahead of Jags draft pick rookie WR Dede Westbrook.
All week, between preseason Weeks 1 and 2, Jags reporters are noting Cole as ‘the revelation of camp.’ A few had been saying so all summer.
In Week 2 of the preseason, Cole ran with the first team. Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns were not playing, but note it was Cole who started ahead of Westbrook. Cole not only started but also worked returning punts, and a shoestring tackle on a long punt return prevented him from taking one to the house.
Between Weeks 2 and 3 of the preseason, rumor hits that Allen Hurns may be on the trade block…Geez, I wonder why?
In Week 3, the ‘dress rehearsal’ preseason game – Cole started with Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Cole saw decent targets in the game – including a bubble screen set up for him to make a play on third down (but whistled mid-throw due to a penalty), and later a bomb where he was 2-3 steps open but the throw was a hair long and he couldn’t grab it with his outstretched arms/hands (in the rain). Once the first team was done for the day, Cole left with them…Cole and Robinson out, but Hurns stayed in the game for work with the 2s. Cole received ‘special 1s treatment’ in Week 3.
Cole is a very intriguing WR prospect. There are signs of a starting NFL wide receiver pre-draft, but he’s confirmed suspicions with his preseason work. He reminds me of Stefon Diggs – good hands, quick/sharp routes, finds ways to get open and makes catches, and better work ethic. I think Jacksonville has a lot of confidence in this upstart. Much like Stefon Diggs was a late draft pick and overlooked pre-draft, but impressed so much in the preseason that he snuck up and became the Vikings functional No. 1 wide receiver in parts of his rookie season.
Like Diggs, Cole will be stuck on a very weak passing game offense in 2017. Cole is not usurping Allen Robinson as the team’s No. 1 option, but he may have bumped Marqise Lee. Consider that Lee had a surprisingly solid 2016 season as a third wheel WR – Lee was just behind Robinson in catches and yards last season. The third wheel WR/slot guy could have fantasy value with the Jags. Also, consider Cole ran second team much of training camp. He has history/connection with Chad Henne. Should Henne take over after halftime of Week 1, Henne would arguably have the most practice reps with Cole over any other Jags wide receiver this calendar year.
Keelan Cole has come on so strong and so fast this preseason. With his background being at the D2 level, it’s difficult to process how good Cole really is or might be. From what I’ve seen, there’s something there. Regardless of what I think, the Jaguars are also showing him a pretty nice red carpet treatment this preseason.
It seems insane to consider this, but it may be on the table due to injuries, etc. – D2 UDFA rookie wide receiver Keelan Cole may have better numbers this season than any first-round 2017 NFL Draft pick WR, better than Corey Davis, Mike Williams, or John Ross. He also may be as talented a receiver as any of the top guys as well, he’s just not as familiar/media covered.
Keelan Cole is a guy I am keeping a close eye on and trying to study deeper to see if we’re talking ‘useful’ for the pros or something potentially great developing here.
Look for more of my team’s NFL Draft scouting reports, measurables, mock drafts, and weekly updated dynasty rookie rankings before and after the NFL Draft, right up to the beginning of the new NFL season at CollegeFootballMetrics.com. See our NFL/fantasy analysis all year ’round and our annual draft guide at FantasyFootballMetrics.com.