In 2020, Michigan wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones slipped to the sixth round. Then, in the regular season, he emerged as a key playmaker for the Cleveland Browns down the stretch. Can fellow Michigan wide receiver Nico Collins follow a similar path out of the 2021 NFL Draft?
Nico Collins 2021 NFL Draft Profile & Senior Bowl Measurements
- Position: Wide Receiver
- School: Michigan
- Current Year: Senior
- Height: 6’4 1/4″
- Weight: 215 pounds
- Wingspan: 79″
- Arm: 32 1/2″
- Hand: 9 3/8″
If nothing else, Nico Collins has the luxury of boasting high school pedigree — if boasting was his thing. It’s not. Known as a humble, hard-working player, Collins sweat for every opportunity he earned. But it helped to be a 6-foot-4, 202-pound high school senior in 2017.
Collins’ natural talent was apparent in high school. In his final two high school seasons, Collins logged 103 catches, 1,968 yards, and 25 touchdowns. His production attracted interest from dozens of schools. Listed as a four-star prospect, Collins received offers from Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Florida, LSU, Auburn, and Florida State.
Originally from Pinson, Alabama, Collins was expected to remain in the heart of the SEC. But instead, he signed with the Michigan Wolverines, where he’d play under former NFL quarterback and head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Nico Collins’ career as a Michigan wide receiver
Collins only caught three passes for 27 yards as a true freshman. Some wide receivers would be bothered by the lack of statistical production, but Collins wasn’t. He came in the following spring and got to work, and soon, he was drawing rave reviews from players and coaches alike.
In 2018, Collins converted on the excitement. In 13 games and 11 starts, the sophomore receiver put up 38 catches for 632 yards and six touchdowns. He found a niche as a big-play threat for a Wolverines offense that desperately needed one, and as a result, he was recognized as an All-Big Ten honorable mention selection.
The 2019 season came around, and Collins continued to perfect his role. Although the offense was hampered by inconsistent coaching and quarterback play, Collins maintained his share. In 12 games, Collins caught 37 passes for 729 yards and seven touchdowns. His yards per catch increased from 16.6 to 19.7, and he was named Michigan’s Offensive Player of the Year.
Nico Collins’ decision to opt out of the 2020 season
After Collins returned for the 2020 season, expectations were high. But not long before the team’s opening game, the Big Ten canceled the football season. As deliberations followed, whispers about a spring season began to precipitate. And for Collins, that presented a dire scheduling conflict.
“Once they canceled that and said they weren’t sure when the next time we would have a season, they were saying toward the spring, it was kinda like, that’s training,” Collins said via the Detroit Free Press. “That’s the time where I get prepared for the [NFL] draft around December, January, after the bowl game. They were trying to push toward the spring a little bit.”
After consulting with his family, Collins chose to opt out of his final college football season and start his 2021 NFL Draft preparation early. When the Big Ten season resumed later on, he and cornerback Ambry Thomas chose not to opt back in. By that point, they were already too far along. Given Michigan’s continued state of disrepair on offense, Collins might have made a wise choice.
Analyzing Nico Collins’ 2021 NFL Draft profile
Nico Collins is a big dude, and he plays like it. Standing at 6-foot-4, Collins regularly has a size advantage on the boundary, and he takes advantage of it with his ball tracking ability and his body control in midair. The Michigan wide receiver’s hands aren’t as consistent as you’d like them to be for a big-bodied, contested catch specialist, but nevertheless, Collins can make some impressive off-balance catches.
Collins’ athleticism is good for his size, and it also constitutes a sizable part of his game. Collins’ speed isn’t great (projected 4.55 by Tony Pauline), which minimizes his ability to separate downfield. But he compensates for this with impressive initial burst off the line and tremendous vertical explosiveness downfield. With his vertical athleticism, Collins can rise up to high-point balls, and use his length to cover the difference and reach for inaccurate passes.
Collins is also a tough player, and this is evident in several aspects of his game. At the line, he has the play strength to fight press coverage. After the catch, while Collins isn’t particularly elusive, he has the density and competitive edge to break tackles with force, especially if he has room to build up some momentum.
Additionally, Collins also shows nice flashes as a run blocker. It’s not the flashiest job for a receiver, but Collins takes to it well. Although he occasionally takes suspect angles, he has the frame and play strength to escort defensive backs away from the play, as he did several times in 2019.
What are the issues with Nico Collins’ profile?
Nico Collins is an imposing downfield threat with enticing potential, but he also has some limitations. As mentioned earlier, his speed will limit him somewhat at the NFL level. He’s also inconsistent with his route running.
At times, Collins presents the necessary building blocks to be a good route runner, and I do like how he displays the ability to adjust his stride length and increase his foot speed heading into his breaks. But Collins can be more polished overall. There are times when he rounds out his breaks, and he can sink his hips more at the stem to accentuate his change-of-direction skills. Honing his talents here could help unearth greater talent.
Beyond route running polish, more consistency is what Collins needs. Collins has great size, good athleticism, and good competitive toughness. It’s also clear on tape that he was detrimentally affected by Michigan’s poor quarterback play in 2019, much like 2020 sixth-round pick Donovan Peoples-Jones. However, Collins himself can be more consistent, both with his process before the catch and his hands at the catch point. Once he gets that straightened out, his vertical athleticism and body control should be even more impactful downfield.
Nico Collins’ best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
Collins is an interesting evaluation. I like the size, and I like the various athletic tools he’s flashed. But the Michigan wide receiver will need to refine his game at the NFL level if he wants to be more than a simple role player. As it stands, Collins has the skill set to make an impact downfield and in the red zone.
However, if he wants to be more than a situational player, he has to add more to his route running arsenal, and he also has to hone his quickness and explosiveness as much as possible.
I think Collins will test better than expected, much like Peoples-Jones did, and the NFL Combine will be big for him. If Collins can adequately quantify the athletic traits he possesses in tandem with his size, teams may line up to acquire his upside.
Additionally, the Senior Bowl will also be big for Collins. It’ll allow him a chance to showcase his physicality and size advantage in one-on-one situations. Having said all this, if Collins doesn’t test well and doesn’t show out in Mobile, he’ll be relegated to Day 3.
Potential team fits for Nico Collins
Collins has a chance to force his way into Round 3 with a stellar offseason. Barring that, Round 4 to Round 6 is a safe, flexible range for him, especially with all the receiver talent on the board this year.
On Day 3, there are plenty of teams who could be in the market for Collins. Right away, he can serve as a high-upside, big-bodied receiver. He can also be a spark plug in certain situations. Teams with thin receiving cores, like the Giants, Texans, Jets, Browns, and Eagles could be good places for Collins to earn opportunities. Going even further, teams in need of more size could also benefit from adding Collins.
Collins isn’t yet a complete receiver, but at the NFL Combine, he can convince teams that he has the tools to reach that point. Until then, he still has the necessary physical qualities to play in a niche role that highlights his big-play ability. And perhaps, with better quarterback play in the NFL, more meaningful opportunities will come his way, ready for him to take advantage.