Nico Collins frequently bullied cornerbacks in the Big Ten Conference with his superior size, strength, speed, leaping ability and timing.
Because of Collins’ unique catch radius and ability to high-point the football that he displayed two years ago before opting out of last season due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, the Texans traded back into the third round to acquire the former Michigan standout wide receiver as they sent the Carolina Panthers two fourth-round draft picks and a fifth-round selection.
At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Collins has run the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds.
Although it’s just an organized team activity, the Birmingham, Ala., native is already turning heads with his potential.
“How I feel about Nico, this guy doesn't look like a rookie to me,” veteran wide receiver Brandin Cooks said Thursday on a Zoom video call. “You talk about a guy who's out there that's coachable and is able to pick up things pretty fast. You love to see that from a young guy, a guy who is explosive with natural hands and I look forward to continuing to work with him and seeing him grow."
Collins led the Big Ten Conference with a 19.7 average per catch in 2019, finishing with 37 receptions for 729 yards and seven touchdowns.
Collins was named the Wolverines’ Offensive Player of the Year in 2019 one year after earning the team’s Most Improved Player award when he caught 38 passes for 632 yards and six touchdowns. At Michigan, he played for Texans assistant receivers coach Ben McDaniels and Texans quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Pep Hamilton.
“We had an idea that we liked his size,” Texans coach David Culley said. “He is the protype wide receiver, big strong, 50/50 catch type guy in this league and we feel like he’ll bring that to us. We’re looking forward to that. Very tough kid.”
A former four-star recruit, Collins has lost 15 pounds from his junior year when he played at roughly 230 pounds. He was noticeably quicker and faster at the Senior Bowl all-star game where he boosted his draft stock.
Collins has a knack for boxing out smaller defensive backs and using his physical style to gain leverage.
“I use my size as an advantage,” Collins said. “I feel like that’s one part of my game that I excel in. I play big. I play physical. I’m glad that the Houston Texans believed in me and they picked me up. I’m just ready to come in and get to work, I am.”
“A big target, I use my frame to my advantage. I feel like there’s an opportunity for the quarterback to give me a fade ball in the end zone. I use my size the best way I can, and that’s the best way I perform on the football field, just using my size.”
Collins is primarily an outside wide receiver and has been characterized by some as an old-school No. 1 wide receiver because he’s larger than most downfield targets.
Texans general manager Nick Caserio, a former record-setting John Carroll quarterback who previously coached receivers with the New England Patriots, saw a combination of attractive traits in Collins.
“I would say specific to him, he's got good size, he runs well,” Caserio said. “He's got good hands, so he catches the ball well. He's got good playing strength. So, again, how is that going to translate into our system and into NFL competition? We'll find out.”
NFL scouts gave Collins high marks for his ability to track the football and win 50-50 balls and make contested catches and block downfield. His intermediate route running didn’t grade out nearly as well as his vertical patterns. He’s regarded as someone who builds up speed rather than immediately gaining top acceleration.
Collins made major strides in his junior year, upgrading his game.
“I was working on a lot of things from the 2019 year, just little things like improving on everything to become an overall better receiver,” Collins said. “Releases at the line of scrimmage, separation, and overall just working on things for me to be great so I can be the best version of myself on the football field.”
How does Collins plan to keep getting better? He's patterning his style after Los Angeles Lakers basketball star LeBron James as far as his dedication to his sport.
“There’s a reason why he’s still in the league,” Collins said. “He’s one of the best players to even dribble a basketball. His work ethic can’t even be touched. I feel we both have the same work ethic. We’re just working to get better.
“I’m proving it to myself and I just feel like I have to work on things a lot. There’s always room for improvement. So I’m going to keep on improving as much as I can just LeBron is. He’s still improving his game and getting better, so that’s what I’m going to continue doing.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.