Digging deep for potential late-round sleepers, Nico Collins may have all the tools needed to turn from diamond in the rough to hidden gem.
Stats & Background:
Nico Collins is a name that has never been at the top of lists or greatly touted when dealing with college signings and now with the NFL draft process. As a 4-star recruit out of Alabama, Collins most productive season was his junior season, where he put up 1,103 yards and 16 TDs on 60 receptions. That production took a dip senior year, with only 865 yards and 9 TDs, but it was still good enough to receive offers from Georgia, Michigan, and his home state school, Alabama. Choosing Michigan over Alabama came as a shock to many. Collins stated in an article with Michael Casagrande of AL.com, “Mainly, if you’re recruited to Alabama, you go to Alabama, but I saw it as an opportunity to be different, and I feel that’s what I did. I feel like it was best for me.”
As we all are aware, Nico took his talents to Michigan, where he finished his freshman year with only three receptions for 27 yards in 2 games played. Collins’ actual usage came in his sophomore season, where he had 632 yards and 6 TDs. Then he closed his college career on a high mark in his junior season with 729 yards and 7 TDs. Although these numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, Collins was top 2 in rec yards and TDs on the Michigan team in 2018 and 2019. He never commanded above 15% in target share, but this could be due to Michigan’s ghastly offense instead of individual talent.
Nico Collins decided to opt-out of his Senior season in 2020 to prepare for the NFL draft. He spoke of his reasoning on ESPN’s The Adam Schefter Podcast, citing remaining healthy and the Big Ten restart notice coming a bit too late.
1v1 Jump ball ability
The bread and butter for this prospect, in my opinion. Nico’s ability to win jump balls against both smaller and bigger defenders is what will earn Nico some opportunity on the field. This is where I see a solid comparison to someone like Devin Funchess on what to expect for Collins. The 1v1 ability, paired with his ability to ball-track, should give him looks around the end zone. Thus, providing an opportunity at fantasy relevance based on touchdown upside.
Although it doesn’t seem consistent across his film, Collins does find the holes within zone defense inconsistently. Even the flashes of this ability sporadically should help the weaker side of his game that I will touch on later.
This was the most surprising aspect to Nico for me solely based on his build and size. His play speed is fast enough to make the home-run plays if he hits the open field. He isn’t as much of a plodder as many WRs of his stature seem to be.
As seen in this game against Penn State, Collins is excellent at getting his head around quickly and tracking to a poorly thrown pass. With much better talent at the QB in the NFL, this ability paired with his size will help him win many one-on-one matchups.
When Nico really digs in to run block, he shows great drive and ability to protect. Being a big-bodied WR lends itself well to this aspect of the game.
The main concern for me when it comes to Nico Collins is at the line of scrimmage. Collins is not quick when it comes to the beginning of his routes and his release off the line of scrimmage. It takes a bit for Nico to get started at the beginning of plays, and when going against bigger and faster DBs at the NFL level, this will give him trouble. Especially on the quicker routes within the route tree.
The main reason for this poor release from the LOS has to do with his slow feet. This could be something he has been working on during this opt-out season, but this is my biggest concern from the tape we have. The pairing of the poor release and slow feet will make it difficult for Collins to create separation at the NFL level. Ultimately, leading Collins likely to be pigeonholed into the jump ball role in the NFL unless he can show some significant improvements.
Nico Collins isn’t a guy going early in your rookie drafts, and for good reason because he doesn’t project to have a massive ceiling or be a superstar. He has the tools to be a fair 1v1 WR, but his opportunity and ceiling were capped at Michigan, playing with mediocre to poor QB play at best. As seen in many of the strength clips above, the ball is often late or behind, which didn’t allow Collins to reach his best potential.
That being said, if he can land in an environment with a promising QB and some opportunity to see the field, I believe he can be a rock-solid late 3rd round or 4th round flyer pick. A good player comp for Collins is Devin Funchess with similar measurables and game styles, with a ceiling of Dwayne Bowe. The elite size paired with a reasonably good game speed can allow Nico Collins to thrive, especially within the red zone. He is not a player to spend up for by any means but is a late-round guy that fantasy managers can hope possibly becomes a sleeper or gem.
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