With the 2021 NFL Draft now less than a month away, we examine some of the prospects who could be of interest to the New England Patriots.
In this scouting report, we take a closer look at Nico Collins, a wide receiver from the University of Michigan.
Height: 6'4" (1.93m)
Weight: 215lbs (97.52kg)
Hands: 9/10 - One of Collins' strongest traits here. Natural hands at the position, always seen extending and high-pointing ball well, massive catch radius, all the tools needed in this department to score a high grade. Registered zero drops in his sophomore year with Shea Patterson under center. A couple notable concentration drops keep the score at 9, as opposed to a perfect 10.
Route Footwork Efficiency: 7/10 - Not a whole assortment of routes here, as he was kind of limited in his display. However, for what he could show off, he didn't show a ton of wasted movement. To even further improve his footwork could take his game to another level.
Short Routes: 7/10 - Many corners played off Collins, fearing his deep ability and losing the hands battle with him. This opened up some possibilities underneath. While he won't wow on slants or underneath patterns, he was proficient enough at them and certainly could improve with fine-tuning.
Medium Routes: 7/10 - This is an area where Collins could really excel at the next level, as it's an area that speaks to how he was underutilized in his college career. Didn't see a whole lot of Collins in the intermediates, yet, he has the skill set to excel there with some fine-tuning.
Deep Routes: 9/10 - He got lots of rehearsal at Michigan running deep routes, using his long strides and afterburners to gain separation downfield. Also uses size and physicality to win downfield in more condensed spaces. Seen consistently stacking on top of his defenders beautifully downfield.
Quickness: 6.5/10 - The biggest concern in Collins' game is his explosiveness and short-area agility and quickness. His get-off from the line is rather pedestrian, and it's possible his sluggishness within the first 5 yards could lead to separation issues (especially in less vertically inclined offenses). He's missing that accelerator to make him a potential first-rounder.
Long Speed: 7.5/10 - When Collins gets the chance to run deep and get a running start, that's when his afterburners can really come into play. His long strides downfield on deep routes are where his 4.42 speed come from, and not in his 10-yard splits.
Zone IQ: 6/10 - Not really a whole lot on display here. A lot of film showed him facing man coverage, instead of sitting down and finding spaces in the zone. Between a heavy man coverage dose and a lack of usage on intermediates over the middle, it's hard to determine, yet this trait definitely has the opportunities to develop.
Release: 7/10 - Going back to the explosiveness and quickness aspect, his release off the ball and his footwork is a huge question mark in the draft. It's an area that spells a load of issues moving forward. However, his releases looked cleaner and improved at the Senior Bowl after he opted out of the 2020 season.
50/50 Ball: 10/10 - One of the best to be found at the 50/50 jump ball. A former basketball player, and it shows on tape, especially in the red zone. Collins can make catches when uncovered, covered, or blanketed, with his strong hands, and with his ability to high-point the ball, his ability to get high up vertically, and then box out and rip the ball away after obtaining possession. A real threat when trying to throw the ball up in the end zone. Throw it up high and he's likely coming down with it.
Big Play Factor: 9.5/10 - This guy is a big play waiting to happen, and it's because of his hands, size, and athletic profile that he can consistently string these plays together. Reminds a lot of Kenny Golladay, Josh Gordon, or A.J Green-like ability to make big plays.
Draft Grade: Early 3rd Round
Fit with the Patriots:
The question that keeps coming up with Nico Collins is how he differs from N'Keal Harry. While the two are different prospects in many respects, if New England were to pick Collins, he likely would be in direct competition with the former first-round pick for the X receiver role.
The Patriots are in dire need of a big, physical X receiver. In fact, some may argue that a player like this (and a franchise QB, of course) are what's missing from this grand scheme to revamp the offense this offseason. But if New England were to spend high draft capital to get a player like Collins in the second, third round of the NFL draft, it likely would signal the end of the Harry experiment.
While this is not to say that it may not be time to move on from Harry, though a change of scenery for the right return might make sense for both the player and the team. However, this is to say that the team should not move on from Harry unless they are sure that a player like Collins can supply what's lacking in his game. There are signs that point in both directions here when answering this question.
Both players project favorably to that big, physical, outside X receiver role. However, both struggle to create separation in an offensive style like the Patriots' Erhardt-Perkins scheme. At this point, Collins likely projects as a better player and potentially a better fit than Harry, just based off showing more from some key traits. While the Patriots would be justified to bring in both and have a battle for the leading role, eventually one would have to win. While signs point toward Collins maybe winning, is this all worth it if he struggles to separate just like Harry?
That is the burning question standing in the way from New England acquiring a player who ideally could be a physical, deep threat who would kill on contested catches and in the red zone. He's everything the Patriots need, yet he's just missing some key pieces. The other burning question is whether these skills can entirely develop and whether his college career was only a glimpse into his potential in the pros. Which is, of course, a question yet to be answered. Collins looks like a high-risk, high-reward candidate for the Patriots.