Nico Collins excited about his future, Texans after big season

Nico Collins was ready for the assignment, routinely applying his signature hundreds of times and posing for photographs during a recent autograph show at NRG Arena.

Collins was in heavy demand with a long line of fans waiting for their moment with the Texans’ standout wide receiver.

Another type of signature likely awaits Collins in the future, perhaps as early this year, perhaps a bit further down the road: his name on a lucrative multi-year contract extension.

In the wake of a breakthrough season, the imposing former All-Big Ten Conference selection from Michigan is entering the final year of a four-year, $4.852 million rookie contract that included a $902,990 signing bonus and a base salary of $1.324 million this year. Under NFL rules, Collins is now eligible for an early contract extension after completing three accredited seasons.

Whether the Texans will ultimately decided to launch talks early with Collins and his veteran agents, Drew Rosenhaus and Ryan Matha, remains to be determined, but there is definitely mutual interest from both sides in continuing this successful relationship. Collins won’t force the issue, trusting the organization and preferring to let it all unfold in due time.

“Oh man, I would love that,” Collins said during a Tristar Productions show when asked about potentially launching early contract discussions. “That would be great. I feel like that’s what everybody works for. I’m just going to let it come to me, whatever they decide, whatever they want to do. I’m going to let it ride. Me, I’m going to continue to get better and work on my game. If they want to negotiate, we can.”

Wide receiver salaries are skyrocketing, especially for ones with rare traits like Collins.

And, although there has been plenty of conversation circulation about how the Texans might bolster the wide receiver position through free agency or the draft, they already have a clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver in Collins. It’s regarded as more likely the Texans will seek to supplement what Collins and Tank Dell, who’s recovering well from a broken fibula, provide than bring in an expensive alternative to Collins as the most frequently targeted player in the offense. The Texans are not expected to be involved in the high end of the wide receiver market headlined by Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pro Bowl selection Mike Evans, whose price could range between $25 million to $30 million annually.

At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Collins has run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds.

And he’s coming off a career breakthrough season during which he caught 80 passes for 1,297 yards and eight touchdowns in 15 regular season games. In two playoff games, Collins caught 11 passes for 164 yards and one touchdown with nine first downs on 17 targets.

Collins provided a strong downfield presence for a resurgent Texans team led by quarterback C.J. Stroud and coach DeMeco Ryans as they went from 3-13-1 a year ago to 11-8 overall and winning the AFC South division title.

“Man, it was amazing, a blessed season,” Collins said. “I did miss a couple of games, but made it out healthy. l did well for the team. I stayed healthy. I balled out. It was a long season, but a fun season. A lot of memories, I’m excited to get back to work and pick up where we left off. Great guys in the locker room, it’s going to be an exciting year.

“Time to reload and pick up where we left off. It’s definitely a blessing, a great team to be around. I think it’s time. Can’t wait to get everybody back. I feel like we’re on a mission. It’s real. It really is. We can’t wait to be back where we left off. It wasn’t how we wanted to finish. I feel like we’re all locked in, bought in and we want to prove everybody wrong again.”

Stroud was convinced, immediately, on sight, about Collins.

It took only a few moments for the Texans’ quarterback to understand the vast talents and attributes of Collins, one of the largest wide receivers in the NFL.

Size. Speed. Strength. Toughness. Hands. Route-running skills. Ability to run after the catch.

Collins has every requisite trait to excel at one of the most difficult positions in the NFL.

And the breakthrough season Collins manufactured didn’t come as a surprise to Stroud, the strong-armed NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

“I think he just stamped who he is,” Stroud said. “I told him our first time ever working out together. I said, you’re a superstar. I never even snapped the ball in the league, but I just know good receivers. I played where we have tremendous receivers.

“I told him, my goal is to make you look as best as you can, to make you look like you. I appreciate him just being just a consistent, great friend to me, somebody who I can just let my hair down with, and I think our chemistry shows on the field. Our friendship shows on the field. I’m super proud of that dude, man. It’s just the beginning for him.”

Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans

Photo: Carmen Mandato / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

The chemistry between Stroud and was on point all season. There was no greater example than how they dismantled the Indianapolis Colts’ overwhelmed secondary during a 23-19 victory that clinched the Texans’ ticket to the postseason.

Collins caught nine passes for a career-high 195 yards on nine targets against the Colts despite commanding a lot of attention from the defense due to the absence of injured wide receivers Robert Woods and Noah Brown.

Collins scorched Colts rookie corner JuJu Brents on a 75-yard bomb for a touchdown on the Texans’ first play from scrimmage. The football traveled 59.2 air yards, according to NextGen Stats, for the longest of Stroud and Collins’ careers.

After such a successful season, Collins is looking forward to even more production this year and a different energy at NRG Stadium after a dramatic turnaround last year.

“We’re ready, guys are locked in,” Collins said. “They really can’t wait to be back and enjoy this. It’s a different juice, a different momentum and we’re ready to pick up where we left off.

“It’s amazing to see how every single week, how it changes. The fans bought in. They really brought the juice. New coaching this year, it was a learning year and getting used to each other, a building year. Next year is going to be even better. I can be even more involved. I can’t wait.”

The plan for the offseason is similar to last year as Collins upgraded his durability significantly after being limited to a combined 24 games and 15 starts in his first two NFL seasons due to a variety of nagging injuries.

He’s going to continue to go to hot yoga and concentrate on other body work, including his work on flexibility, injury prevention and core performance with Houston-based Tan Nguyen of Revolve Physical Therapy.

“Oh yeah, I’m going to stick to the script,” Collins said. “I’m not going to change what worked for me. I’m going to continue to capitalize on it and feel good coming into Sundays by doing the extra work on my body. I’m not going to change it up. It worked out.”

How about recruiting free agents?

Well, Collins is going to leave that to Stroud, who has already been in communication with several top free agents about the merits of playing for the Texans.

“I’ll let 7 do that,” Collins said. “Everybody knows what’s up. We’re on a mission to show the city what we’re going to do and show the world.”

As for the team goals, Collins isn’t placing any ceiling on how far the Texans can go. They’re chasing a Super Bowl.

“Most definitely,” Collins said. “I feel like the sky is the limit for everybody. Let the game come to us and play for each other. It’s going to be a fun year.”

For Collins, it was a series of stellar performances.

He became the third wide receiver in franchise history to surpass 1,200 receiving yards, joining Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins.

Although Collins has surpassed his combined production during his first two seasons since being drafted in the third round out of Michigan as the second draft pick in general manager Nick Caserio’s first year running the Texans’ personnel department, his quantum leap as an all-around wide receiver didn’t surprise Ryans.

“I’ve constantly talked about Nico and the plays he’s made, and that hasn’t changed,” said Ryans, who has praised Collins going back to the spring. “I know I keep saying that and everybody is probably looking at me like, ‘Oh, you guys don’t have receivers.’ His mindset hasn’t changed.

“He’s been the same guy. He’s a big-time playmaker for us, and he shows up every single day. He hasn’t changed who he is. He still shows up in a humble manner. He shows up and he works hard every day at practice, and that’s why he continues to get better. He continues to show up in the games.

Collins caught 70 passes for 927 yards and three touchdowns in his first two dozen games after joining the Texans.

A lack of durability was the biggest thing holding back the Birmingham, Alabama native.

So, he worked on his body and his mental approach to the game.

Although Collins isn’t outspoken at all, his presence was clearly felt. Greatly. Just ask the cornerbacks who can’t match Collins’ 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash or how he trucks them after catching the football.

“I would say just his tenacity,” Texans offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik said. “He didn’t really talk much, but his mentality like when he lined up, you can tell he really wanted to get off the ball. He really put his foot in the ground, and he declared where he was going.

“When he was jumping to catch a fade or something, he was grabbing with two hands, aggressively putting it away. All the attention to detail, like the little things that a lot of people probably don’t notice that he does on a day-to-day basis in his routes. We got to play in OTAs, got to start doing like 7-on-7 and he was a lot faster than I thought.”

Collins led the Texans with 109 targets and 53 first downs. He averaged 16.2 yards per catch.

He has drawn comparisons to former Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones.

“Obviously, he’s been a stud,” Slowik said. “He’s been at wide receiver one, he’s went out and performed. Anytime he has a one-on-one he’s taken advantage of the opportunity. He’s affected the game as a downfield threat, as an intermediate threat, and then, really even as a catch-and-run guy.

“He’s taken such great strides just from where he was the last couple of years watching him on tape. It’s been really fun to watch and be a part of and it changes our team. You can see it spread across the whole offense in the culture of what we’re doing. Nico is an unbelievable individual. He’s far exceeded anything that I think any of us could have imagined.”

Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

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