Citing “unfinished business,” Michigan wide receiver Nico Collins’ decision to defer an NFL career for a year in favor of returning for his senior season came at a critical time for the U-M wide receivers corps.
A part of the Wolverines’ highly-lauded 2017 wide receiver recruiting class that included fellow blue-chip prospects Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black, Collins will be the only member of the trio returning to Ann Arbor for a fourth year, with Black entering the transfer portal and Peoples-Jones declaring for the NFL Draft.
Collins is, perhaps, U-M’s best big-bodied, big-play wide receiver since Junior Hemingway (2007-11), and his ability to stretch the field will be critical for a Maize and Blue offense.
Earning the nickname “Big Play Hemingway" during a fifth-year senior season in which he averaged 20.3 yards per reception, Hemingway's capabilities in the deep passing game were a vital factor to for an 11-win Michigan team in 2011.
At 6-4, 222-pounds, Collins compares favorably from a size standpoint with Hemingway, who entered his final collegiate season at 6-1, 222-pounds. Like Hemingway, Collins is able to utilize this size advantage over smaller corners to out-jump opposing defensive backs and high-point 50-50 balls downfield.
Collins is faster than Hemingway was, with likely sub 4.5 40-yard dash - Hemingway ran a 4.53 at the NFL combine - and is overall a more fluid athlete. Although the full range of his athleticism has yet to be fully tapped on the collegiate level, Collins has the tools to be a more versatile player than Hemingway if given more yards-after-catch opportunities on short and intermediate passes, like his 76-yard catch and run TD at Indiana.
It’s worthwhile to note that Hemingway was working with three different head coaches during his time on campus and also played his prime seasons with a predominantly run-first quarterback (Denard Robinson). Still, Hemingway was able to average more than 20.0 yards per catch as a senior, with 11 of his 34 catches going for 25 yards or more, including two grabs (both touchdowns) during his 2011 Sugar Bowl MVP performance.
Collins has shown a similar propensity for making big plays, averaging 19.7 yards per catch as a junior and stockpiling 10 catches of at least 40 yards during his first three years as Wolverine, including four this past season.
Also like Hemingway, Collins has been under-utilized compared to his potential—particularly during his junior year. Despite showing all indications of having All-American-type talent, Collins has snagged more than four passes in a game only four times while at Michigan, and has just four career outings of more than 80 receiving yards, only going over 100 yards once.
During his five years in the Maize and Blue, Hemingway caught more than four passes in a game only five times, but he did amass seven 100-plus yard receiving games.
Hemingway totaled 699 yards and four touchdowns on 34 catches (20.6 yards per reception) during his senior season - numbers Collins has the potential to dwarf in the second season of a Josh Gattis offense that should feature a more dynamic pass attack than former U-M offensive coordinator Al Borges’ offense.
With Peoples-Jones and Black moving on, there should be a greater opportunity for the Collins to match his talents in the form of a 1,000-yard season.
Back to "unfinished business" and another similarity between the two. Hemingway entered his final season winless against Ohio State, but caught a 26-yard touchdown pass to help down OSU 40-34 in 2011. Collins is currently 0-3 against the Buckeyes, and a big game on Nov. 28, 2020 could connect them in another way, but most importantly, end the Wolverines' eight-game losing streak to Ohio State.
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