Bolting into a fly pattern with a long stride, Texans rookie wide receiver Nico Collins accelerated past corner John Reid for a long touchdown catch Monday morning.
It was an impressive moment for the imposing third-round draft pick from the University of Michigan, which followed other similar displays of athleticism from the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Alabama native.
While the Texans have taken notice of Collins' skills, they want him to apply more consistency to deliver those kind of plays on a regular basis.
"I tell you what, I'm starting to see him make some plays," Texans coach David Culley said of Collins. "Again as you watch the video, there's still some things that he's not doing that we need to do better, but he's playing bigger. And you see him every day he'll end up making a play here or there.
"Here's the issue we've got to have from him: He's got to make those plays all the time, and that's not happening right now. But he is getting better and better each day and he's got to continue to do that."
Signed to a four-year, $4.871 million contract that includes a $902,920 signing bonus, Collins has run the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds. He's shedding any rust accumulated when he opted out for last year for his final season with the Wolverines. Collins, who has run the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds. led the Big Ten Conference with a 19.7 average per catch in 2019, finishing with 37 receptions for 729 yards and seven touchdowns.
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.
“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.
“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.”
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.