Forged by competition, Isaiah Coulter eyes 2020 NFL Draft

Rhode Island wide receiver Isaiah Coulter may be a new face to many when the NFL Draft arrives, but Coulter, forged by competition, won't be fazed by the NFL stage.

The 2020 NFL Draft boasts a historic class of wide receivers, one that figures to trump the prolific 2014 group that saw an astounding 16 pass catchers come off the board within the first three rounds. The initial two rounds feature a variety of blue-chip talents expected to instantly invigorate NFL offenses, but teams are just as likely to find a vast array of first-year contributors in the latter stages of the three-day marathon. Rhode Island alum Isaiah Coulter is one of the more fascinating wide receivers in the NFL Draft, but has largely gone overlooked due to the looming shadows cast by some of his peers.

Maryland Made

Growing up in Maryland, Isaiah Coulter was forged by competition at a young age.

Perhaps the collective combination of football, basketball, baseball, soccer, and track was partly culpable for unlocking his competitive spirit, but it likely originated even earlier. Whether it was one-on-one basketball or football in the backyard, Coulter was in constant competition with his older cousin, Aaron Parker.

“When things flare up, we might get into it, get into a little arguement,” Coulter acknowledged. “We were really competitive in that sense of it, when you talk about sports. Growing up, I’d probably give [Aaron] the edge. He probably got me a little bit more than I got him.”

The fact that the pair resided in different counties prevented them from playing organized football against one another, but whenever the neighborhood kids would get together for a game of football, the cousins always made sure to play on opposite teams.

A dominant offensive weapon

By the time Coulter ascended to the high school ranks, he’d evolved into a dominant offensive weapon on the gridiron. His only hinderance was that his school, Wilde Park, implemented a Wing-T offense, which made little use of wide receivers. Instead, Coulter served as a blocking tight end — which was essentially the primary pass catcher.

For the final season of his high school career, Coulter made the switch to Gwynn Park High School, in Brandywine, Maryland. It was at Gwynn Park that Coulter found a permanent home at wide receiver. Following a breakout senior season in which he produced 40 receptions for 755 yards and 14 touchdowns, Coulter was named to the Prince George Country All-Star team.

“When I made that switch, it was real smooth and natural for me,” Coulter said. “I feel like [wide receiver] has always been my position.”

Collegiate offers began to trickle in during his junior season, and Coulter received considerable interest leading up to his senior campaign. Torn between Maine and Rhode Island, Coulter ultimately committed to Rhode Island, citing initial interest, familiarity with the offense, and the chance to finally play organized football with his cousin as primary reasons.

Rhode Island Rams

After countless backyard battles with his cousin over the years, Coulter reunited with Parker, this time teaming up to form perhaps the most formidable receiving tandem in the Colonial Athletic Association.

“It was great,” Coulter said. “Just feeding off each other, talking to each other after a drive, telling each other what we see. There’s nothing better than playing with one of your family members.”

While Coulter seamlessly adapted to the speed of the collegiate game, pairing signals to a variety of routes in Rhode Island’s no-huddle offense proved to be a challenge for the young wideout in the early goings. Despite the initial learning curve, however, Coulter managed to appear in 11 games (four starts) as a true freshman in 2017. He amassed 18 receptions for 212 yards and a touchdown on the season.

Rounding into form as a sophomore, Coulter started all 11 games, registering 42 receptions for 604 yards and three touchdowns. Coulter’s coming-of-age game came in an early-season six-catch, 106-yard outing against Harvard — his third consecutive week eclipsing the 100-yard receiving mark. Coulter and Parker helped lead a largely hapless Rhode Island program to their first winning season since 2002.

“When I first got to Rhode Island and saw how talented those two guys were, I immediately knew they shouldn’t be at Rhode Island,” Rhode Island wide receivers coach Donovan Varner said. “These are FBS-caliber players.”

With Coulter and Parker spearheading the explosive Rams passing attack, the team appeared destined for new heights in 2019. Though the season ultimately resulted in a dismal 2-10 record, the offense boasted several players poised for an opportunity at the next level.

Coulter is betting on himself

Coulter burst onto the scene in 2019, reeling in 72 receptions for 1,039 yards and eight touchdowns in 12 games (11 starts). The ascending pass catcher became the seventh player in program history to surpass the 1,000-yard receiving mark in a single season.

With Parker, a senior, set to embark on his NFL journey, Coulter was due to inherit the role as the Rams’ top receiver going into his final season in Kingston. After much thought and deliberation, however, Coulter bet on himself, opting to forgo his final season and enter the 2020 NFL Draft.

“I was excited to see what [Isaiah] would be like without Aaron, and him taking command of the room and stepping up in that leadership role,” Varner admitted. “I won’t have the chance to see that, but I know he’s more than capable, and just speaking to him from the end of the season until now, I can see how much he has matured as a young man. He put in the dedication and hard work, and having Aaron there to balance each other out, I think that was really good for him.”

2020 NFL Scouting Combine

Coulter had just finished another grueling workout at Grossetti Performance in Pittsburgh when he happened to check his email.

In his inbox, he found the elusive invitation to participate in the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

As it turned out, Coulter would have some company on the NFL Draft trail. Parker, who finished a decorated Rams career of his own with 30 career touchdown receptions, also accepted his invitation to partake in the weeklong festivities. In fact, the two cousins roomed together throughout the arduous process.

“We were talking to each other back and forth, trying to keep each other going,” Coulter said. “That did help, having somebody you know to talk to. You knew he was going through the same thing, so it made it a little bit better.”

Challenges Coulter faced at the Combine

While the extensive medical testing, team interviews, and media availability dominated the most of the week, the prospects eventually had an opportunity to showcase their athletic talents. At the NFL Combine, the 40-yard dash is often the most scrutinized aspect of the evaluation process, but for Coulter, it presented its own unique challenge.

“They called my name, it’s quiet, of course,” Coulter explained. “I’m relying on all the training I did up to that point. I take a deep breath, then I get in my stance. I get set, I lift my left arm up — I hold it for like two seconds — I get out, and I heard the whistle. He told me, ‘You didn’t hold it long enough’, and I said, ‘How long do I have to hold it?’ He was like, ‘You gotta hold it for at least three seconds.’

“I trained two-second holds, so I wasn’t used to three-second holds. I feel like, if you’re holding it longer, you’re kind of thinking too much. I did the same thing over, lined up, took a deep breath, and got in my stance. I felt like I held it a little bit longer that time, but he blew the whistle again. I’m like, ‘Dang, what am I doing?’ He said, ‘You gotta hold it, you’re rolling into it.’ So, I got in the same stance, I held it for three seconds and I took off. Right when I got to where he usually blows it back, my mind was telling me to stop, but I just kept going. I put my head down and pumped my arms and made sure I was doing everything that I was doing in training.”

On his third attempt, Coulter ran a blazing 4.45-second 40-yard dash, the tenth-fastest time of his position group. The uncanny ability to overcome adversity when the stakes were highest speaks volumes to Coulter’s mental focus.

Once the final 40-yard dash went in the books, a collective exhale could be heard across Lucas Oil Stadium, as the prospects moved on to the on-field portion of the workout.

Coulter made a name for himself during the on-field drills, demonstrating his ability to get in and out of breaks with urgency and little wasted movement, innate body control, and a knack for securing concentration catches, leaving those in attendance in awe of the small-school product.

The Rhode Island star checked off a sizeable box on the big stage.

Isaiah Coulter’s NFL Outlook

“I feel like I put my best foot forward at the Combine in showing my talents. My film, I feel like that backs it up as well. I’ll just leave it up to God and hope for the best. Whoever gets me, I’ll be ready for the opportunity.”

As teams begin to wrap up the final stages of the pre-draft process, all Coulter can do now is run routes on a local field to stay sharp as he waits to see how his NFL Draft journey unfolds.

Coulter may not possess the same glitz and glamour as some of his NFL Draft counterparts, but the Maryland native is every bit as equipped to evolve into an early contributor as a rookie. The 6-foot-2, 198-pound wide receiver has the requisite length to complement a remarkable catch radius, plenty of speed to separate downfield, and the ability to manufacture yards after the catch. His route running will need some refinement as he navigates through his first NFL training camp, but Coulter projects as an eventual starting-caliber “X” receiver at the next level — and his immense upside could very well expedite the process sooner rather than later.

“Isaiah is a freak athlete,” Varner said. “He’s 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, and can flat-out run. Not only is he fast, he’s also quick-twitch. So, once you get a mix of quick-twitch and fast, it’s a nightmare for a defensive back. He gains ground on defenders and closes that cushion. His potential is through the roof, I think he has a very high ceiling. He doesn’t know how good he can be — he’s only going to continue to get better and better.”

As to whether or not Coulter and Parker have any bets going as to who will come off the board first on NFL Draft weekend, Coulter is leaving his options open.

“Not right now, but maybe when it gets closer to that day, we might,” Coulter chuckled. “We might put some money on it.”

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