I remember the day the Houston Texans drafted DeAndre Hopkins. As a Clemson Tigers fan, I was pretty jazzed. Hopkins lived up to the hype and even more. I also remember the day Houston selected Will Fuller. In fact, I was at NRG Stadium when Fuller arrived for the first time—I’ll never forget how skinny his legs looked in person.
Now the Texans have let both of those guys get away, which means it’s time to find new, young pass catching talent. Enter Nico Collins, rookie wide receiver from Michigan. On the surface, this addition seems like one of the few bright spots of the Texans’ 2021 offseason.
Collins fits into the traditional WR1 prototype at 6-foot-4 (93rd percentile) and 215 pounds (82nd). His pro-day 4.42-second 40-yard dash was strong (78th), and his broad and vertical jumps were both around the 75th percentile. Collins doesn’t hit the hottest marks, but the breadth of his athleticism was particularly impressive.
Collins is projected as a late third-round pick in recent mock drafts despite relatively weak production numbers. His career and max market share numbers are mediocre, and his per-route efficiency was poor. Many former Day 2 picks with similar profiles haven’t produced in the NFL, including Collins’ close comps Miles Boykin and Aaron Dobson.
Houston Texans draft WR Nico Collins with the 89th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) May 1, 2021
Nico Collins averaged 19.7 yards per catch in 2019 pic.twitter.com/RlxjJh5YPT
There’s a belief that if Collins had played in 2020, he wouldn’t have been around for Houston to take in the third round; he likely would have gone much higher.
While PFF calls Collins a prototypical WR1 and many others dub him a “matchup nightmare”, his highlight videos don’t necessarily offer proof of that. Before we look at that, let’s look at the scouting report, via CBS Sports.
Houston Texans Select Nico Collins, Wide Receiver, Michigan
- Massive frame and he uses it well to box out defenders in contested-catch situations.
- One of the longest athletes at WR — a 7-foot-9 wingspan — and it shows up in his game.
- Untapped potential due to poor QB play and an inefficient passing game at Michigan.
- Great in contested-catch situations on 50/50 balls.
- Can stack CBs and win vertically down the field despite being a “build-up” speed athlete.
- Strong hands when jammed up in press coverage.
- Excellent body control in the air and when extending away from his frame to make difficult catches.
- Very physical as a receiver and uses his physicality well.
- Very strong hands at the catch point and a natural hands catcher.
- Despite not being the most fluid athlete, he’s effective on slants and curls/comebacks.
- Projects as an immediate red zone threat.
- Lack of straight-line speed.
- Not an explosive athlete off the line of scrimmage or overall — doesn’t create separation with his athleticism.
- Not a very fluid or flexible athlete, relative to the position.
- His footwork off the line of scrimmage needs work and often leaves him behind the eight ball in routes.
- Not an overly productive collegiate receiver.
- Opted out of the 2020 season.
- Seems like a poor fit for a West Coast, quick-hitting offense based on his skill set.
Here are some video highlight reel plays:
In the initial 15 plays, Collins does a great job of getting open and showing his numbers to the quarterback. He has great hands and attacks the ball while boxing out the defenders. Where the concern creeps in is his inability in any of those plays to really get past initial contact. In all 15, he’s either taken down by the first defender to make contact or run out of bounds.
This sort of receiving ability would work very well in a traditional West Coast offense, where sub-10 yard passes are the norm and plays are designed to simply get more than 3.3 yards to slowly move the sticks. It’s a wonder Las Vegas Raidesr head coach Jon Gruden didn’t draft Collins. However, against NFL caliber defenders, Collins will have a much harder time getting open. He’ll have far less time between the catch and contact, which opens the door for incompletions, stripped balls and interceptions.
Dropping Collins in last year’s Tim Kelly offense would certainly mean Collins is definitely not a wide receiver. He’d be more of a slot receiver, due to how he was used at Michigan and his performance on the field. Send Brandin Cooks to the house to take the lid off the defense, have Keke Coutee 20+ yards downfield, and let Collins feast as the safety valve in the middle of the field 5-10 yards off the ball.
With Deshaun Watson under center, Collins might be a great complimentary piece to the speedy receivers already on the roster. With Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Finley, or Davis Mills under center, all bets are off. The Texans kept pass-catching tailback David Johnson, still have tight end Jordan Akins, and drafted a second receiving tight end project in Brevin Jordan (presumably to compete with Kahale Warring, Pharoah Brown, and Ryan Izzo). Adding Collins to the mix gives Houston plenty of sub-15 yard route passing options.
Lining up those players would make it really easy to project Nico Collins as the best of the bunch. He might not be a wide receiver one just yet, but he could easily become the best of the rest. If you’re like most Texans fans right now, desperately looking for something—anything—to feel good about with this team, Collins just might be it.