CLEVELAND -- Texans rookie wide receiver Nico Collins injured his shoulder and is questionable to return Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.
Pro Bowl return specialist Andre Roberts has been playing on offense with Collins injured.
When the Texans maneuvered to draft Collins in the third round out of Michigan, they had plans for him that involved using his size and athleticism.
Although the imposing 6-foot-4, 215-pound rookie wasn't a big factor in the passing game during his first NFL regular-season contest, he played 55 snaps and provided some strong run blocking for an offense that piled up 160 yards on the ground and two touchdown runs.
Collins has made steady progress since training camp when coach David Culley was seeking more consistency from the Alabama native.
Collins caught one of three passes thrown to him during a 37-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars to open the season.
“He did a nice job," Culley said Monday. "He’s been getting better and better from training camp all the way through the preseason. You could just see that in him. He is very mature for a rookie, he never says a word. Sometimes, I don’t even know he’s out on the football field until I see him make a play. But for him to go out there when we needed him to have something happen for us, he did it.
"I’ll tell you what he did do a good job of. He did a nice job in the run game, which you don’t ever see. But he did a nice job in the run game. He’s a very physical guy. He’s a guy we know we are going to need down the line on a basis of being able to make plays and I am happy with where he is at. He is just getting better and better and better.”
Since signing a $4.871 million contract that includes a $902,920 signing bonus, 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.
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.
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 this offseason. "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."
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.