Texans’ ‘impressive’ rookie Nico Collins sheds rust quickly after opt-out

Nico Collins is reinforcing the steps he took to become one of the most challenging wide receivers to cover in the Big Ten Conference, quickly shedding rust acquired last year.

The Texans’ imposing rookie opted out of his final season of college football because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, Collins is making a fast impression on the Texans’ coaching staff since being drafted in the third round and signing a $4.871 million contract that includes a $902,920 signing bonus.

Between how he’s absorbing the playbook and sharpening his route running while adapting to the NFL, Collins figures into the Texans’ equation as a large outside wide receiver who can go up and get the football and defeat press coverage to gain separation on deep passes.

Photo: Kenneth Richmond

“He’s doing a good job coming here in and learning the offense,” Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said. “Making that transition, it’s a totally different game, especially for a guy who didn’t play last year, who opted out. He’s done a great job. He came in in great shape and he’s really learning the offense and he’s been impressive’

At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Collins has run the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds. 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.

“Really liked his size, liked his speed,” Texans wide receivers coach Robert Prince said. “Plays physical, has a large catching radius. Just something to add to our receiving corps. Just liked those traits that he had.”

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.

If Collins lost anything during the opt-out, it wasn’t evident during organized team activities.

Photo: Kenneth Richmond

“Well, with Nico, I don’t know what the effects of the opt-out are,” Prince said. “One thing is, without playing last year, obviously you’re missing a lot of game reps, but it also gives you a chance to be healthy. With Nico, the thing about Nico is he wants to get better every day. I mean, there’s a not a day that he comes in and he’s dreading coming to work. He looks forward to the meetings, getting better in the meetings and working out on the field. With that attitude, he has a chance to succeed.”

In Collins, who played for Texans assistant receivers coach Ben McDaniels for the Wolverines along with Texans passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton, the Texans see an opportunity for him to bully smaller defensive backs.

“He’s a big body wide receiver that has a tremendous catch radius that’ll make contested catches,” Hamilton said. “We’re excited to have an opportunity to continually see him grow and develop and see what type of pro he becomes.”

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.

“How I feel about Nico, this guy doesn't look like a rookie to me,” veteran wide receiver Brandin Cooks said. 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 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.

“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.

“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.”

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.

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