Nico Collins keeps establishing himself with each inside slant, sideline route and post pattern.
The imposing Texans rookie wide receiver provides a large, reliable downfield target for rookie quarterback Daivs Mills.
In 10 games and five starts, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound third-round draft pick from Michigan has caught 23 passes for 297 yards. He caught five passes for a career-high 69 yards on 10 targets Sunday during a 33-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
“I feel like I’ve improved a lot,” Collins said. “I feel like I’ve grown a lot, but I still have a lot more growing to do. Season is going fast, faster than expected. I feel like I just need to work on the little things in order to improve on myself and my game and overall, just becoming a better player.
“There are a lot of adjustments. Everybody here is good, so the little things you got away with in college, you can’t get away with here. It really comes down to small details, creating separation, little head nod, footwork. Just little things like that I really didn’t pick up in college that I know now. Those small little nuggets like that can really separate you.”
Collins has the requisite size, speed, hands, route running skills and work ethic to be a foundational starter for a rebuilding 2-11 franchise.
The Texans have relied on him more and more, targeting him 40 times as the second most frequently targeted receiver on the roster behind veteran wide receiver Brandin Cooks (73 catches for 845 yards and three touchdowns on 109 targets).
“He’s been great,” Mills said. “A lot of progress from the start of the season, the more he’s gotten chemistry with the quarterbacks back there, including myself. The way he has progressed in the offense and kind of knows his role, but he has loads of potential and it’s starting to show.”
Collins is still in the hunt for his first NFL touchdown, a potential score that eluded him on an incomplete connection on a deep throw from veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor last Sunday against the New York Jets.
Collins keeps making strides in his first NFL season, displaying sound hands, body control and improving ability to sell a route.
“I’m real anxious, but it comes with time, patience,” Collins said. “When my time comes, it comes. I am going to keep working. Working on small things and whenever my number is called in the end zone, it’s going to come.”
With 4.45 speed in the 40-yard dash, Collins is one of the biggest wide receivers in the NFL and he plays the game with a physical nature. The Texans are excited about his potential as a rookie starter they’ve developed after acquiring him by trading back into the third round. 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.
He’s building chemistry with Mills, who replaced veteran Tyrod Taylor.
“We’ve been connected since rookie minicamp, OTAs,” Collins said. “We’ve always been playing pitch and catch with each other during the rotation. He was coming in the rotation with Tyrod. We’ve always had that connection. We stay after practice. You know quarterbacks need a couple of throws. I’m there catching for him, so the connection has always been there. We are just building on it, finding ways we can score points, the whole offense.”
Collins was named the Wolverines’ Offensive Player of the Year one year after earning the team’s Most Improved Player award when he caught 38 passes for 632 yards and six touchdowns.
After opting out last season during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, the Alabama native is part of a small, promising rookie draft class that includes tight end Brevin Jordan, quarterback Mills, nose tackle Roy Lopez and linebacker Garret Wallow.
“I feel like the rookies that came in with this draft class we took advantage of every opportunity we got,” Collins said. “Every day, it’s stacking days, getting better, waiting for the opportunity, waiting for our number to be called. I feel like our numbers have been called and we coming up to home plate.
“We are doing what we were working this offseason for, grinding for opportunities like this, to play on Sundays. The time has come and now it shows the ground we’ve been putting in the offseason, so now it shows now.”