NFL draft analysts keep telling me that, similar to the drafts of the past couple of seasons, teams like the New York Giants who need receivers should be able to find them on the second and maybe even third day of the 2021 NFL Draft.
The last time the Giants dipped into that middle- to late-round pool of wide receivers they selected Darius Slayton in Round 5 of the 2019 NFL Draft.
However you define a No. 1 receiver in the NFL, Slayton likely falls short of truly deserving that designation. He is, though, a really good player who has far outplayed being the 171st selection in the 2019 draft. Slayton was the 18th wide receiver selected in that draft. Only six have more catches than Slayton over his first two NFL seasons.
When I watch Nico Collins of Michigan I can’t help but think Collins could be a similar mid-round value. Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network wrote that Collins is “someone I expect will be a much better professional player than a collegiate one.”
Collins opted out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When I watch his 2019 film I can’t help but think this is a kid who was hurt tremendously at Michigan by poor quarterback play and a pedestrian offense.
Pro Football Focus ranks Collins as a fifth-round prospect in its 2021 NFL Draft Guide. Last time I checked, Collins was No. 108 on the Pro Football Network Big Board, which translates to being a fourth-round prospect. If he had played at Alabama with Tua Tagovailoa or Mac Jones, Ohio State with Justin Fields, or Clemson with Trevor Lawrence I can’t help but wonder if analysts would be talking about Collins as a first-round pick. In my view, he would at least be getting more top 50 buzz.
Aside from a handful of games played by Brandon Marshall in 2017, I see Collins as potentially the type of player the Giants haven’t had since Hakeem Nicks. Collins is a big-bodied receiver at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds and he uses that frame to his advantage, boxing out defenders and winning a ton of contested-catch situations. He would be a nice complement to Slayton and Sterling Shepard.
Joe Judge will also love the fact that Collins shows on tape that he is a willing and more than capable blocker in the run game.
Nico Collins projects as a starting “X” receiver in a vertical offense, at least eventually.
Collins will likely need a year or two of coaching and refinement to reach his full potential as a wide receiver. That being said, a team will likely be able to get production out of him early in his career with a limited offensive package if they emphasize his strengths. He should have success early in his career as a deep threat, in the end zone, or in short yardage situations.
Less glamorous, but still important, Collins is a pro-ready blocker. He’ll have the ability to contribute immediately in the running game, as well as on jet motion or screen plays.
Collins should be able to contribute in just about any offensive scheme, but coaches will need to recognize his physical limitations as well as his lack of polish coming out of college. While he can execute mesh concepts and run come-back routes, he shouldn’t be asked to do many routes which demand sharp breaks or double moves.
Collins’ best football is ahead of him and he has the traits to be much better than what he showed in college with more consistent quarterbacking.