With the 2015 NFL draft fast approaching, it’s time for all 32 NFL teams to start getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. To that end, Doug Farrar and Chris Burke have assembled their own definitive Big Board, consisting of the players they feel deserve to be selected in the first two rounds.
As we move into the high teens, the most physically gifted players in this draft class are featured, and LSU offensive lineman La'el Collins is certainly in that group. At 6'4" and 305 pounds, Collins has every bit of the pure functional strength you'd want in a professional blocker. The question is, can he be an NFL left tackle?
Bio: Most players who pledge to Les Miles's team have to wait their turn, but it didn't take long for Collins to break into LSU's consistently and ridiculously talented roster—he played seven games at left guard as a true freshman, became the starter at right guard the next season, and switched to the starting left tackle position for the 2013 season. And against the always tough SEC, Collins often proved to be the biggest bully on the block—a knockdown machine with an aggressive attitude. That aggression works against him to a point at tackle, which may have NFL teams seeing him as a guard. Wherever he lands in the NFL, Collins will bring an imposing physical style—and a great deal of potential—with him.
Strengths: A prototypical mauler who shoots out of his stance quickly at the snap and clearly relishes the opportunity to bury defenders in short areas. Strong player with a wide base and active hands, which he uses to win leverage battles—he regularly pushes defenders back in the run game. Surprising agility with speed to the second level and a passable kick-step in pass protection. Gets his shoulders squared and back on his base after he backs up to face pass-rushers. Legitimate prospect at guard and tackle, but his time at left tackle against some of the NCAA's best pass-rushers will elevate his stock.
Weaknesses: Collins needs to be more of a sustainer—susceptible to losing blocks to either side because he doesn't maintain his body position and uses his hands inconsistently. Inexplicably lunges forward when blocking downfield, leading to easy tackles. Currently lacks the technique required to consistently set the edge. Lets defenders get under his pads and around him too often, and he's vulnerable to quick moves to either side. Not quick enough to adjust to inside counters and rip moves. Could be seen as a guard at the next level, though he's not as athletically limited as most of the position-switch prospects in recent years.
Conclusion: Collins is a very powerful, but slightly athletically limited player who could be seen as anything from a left tackle to a right tackle to a left guard at the next level—it all depends on the scheme, and where he best fits with the team that drafts him. Fortunately, as he insisted at the scouting combine, he's open to whatever challenge he's given.
“It’s been great feedback," Collins said when asked what NFL teams said to him. "They’ve asked me if I could slide to the right side and then in two years, go to the left. I feel very confident in what I do, so it wouldn’t be a problem. They’ve asked me about playing guard and I could play either spot, right or left side. I love the one-on-one matchups. Being out there, one-on-one with a guy and having my way with him.”
Denver's Orlando Franklin is an interesting comp—like Collins, Franklin played tackle and guard at Miami, started his NFL career at right tackle, but kicked inside to left guard for the 2014 campaign, enjoying his best year in the process. And like Collins, Franklin tended to overextend on the outside, proving to be a better player in a phone booth. There's nothing wrong with becoming one of the best guards in the NFL, which is what Collins could eventually become. He could also be a great right tackle with a few technique fixes, but I think his future at left tackle is far more nebulous.
Pro Comparison: Orlando Franklin, Broncos (2nd round, 2011)