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Houston Texans Exclusive: Nico Collins' Road to Greatness Leads to Career-Best Season

Houston Texans' Nico Collins is striving for greatness and the desire has led to his first 1,000-yard season. However, his road to 1K wasn't an easy feat.

HOUSTON — Greatness drives Nico Collins so much that he has motivational quotes from Hall of Famers Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan posted inside his locker at NRG Stadium. Although he plays a different sport than the two icons, Collins tries to replicate their excellence each time he steps onto the field as a member of the Houston Texans.

Collins' road to success hasn't been smooth. However, the 2023 season marks the first time he has proven to be on the right trajectory. During the Texans' Week 14 loss to the New York Jets, Collins surpassed 1,000 receiving yards (1,004) for the first time in his career.

He became the fourth player in franchise history to achieve the feat — joining Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, and Brandon Cooks.

"That was always a personal goal," Collins told Texans Daily in an exclusive interview. "Ever since I got drafted, I felt I had the potential to do it…Looking back, I am so thankful. I prayed so much. And now, everything is coming slowly. But I feel I must continue to be myself. Continue working. Keep my faith high. That's been my mindset — be great at whatever I do."

The milestone is a testament to the work Collins has put in since the early days of training camp at the Houston Methodist Training Center in July. It was apparent he was on the cusp of a big year.

He made plays against his teammates during team scrimmages while establishing chemistry with rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud. He's been a top target in the passing game since late July. But when reflecting on his career achievement, Collins cannot help but think how far he has come since the Texans drafted him in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

He was an unproven prospect from the University of Michigan who cried uncontrollably on Zoom the night he was drafted. Only a handful of people had the luxury of witnessing Collins' journey to 1K.

Outside of his family, Texans' wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Ben McDaniels has been a part of Collins' journey since the spring of 2018. He was a sophomore who left a significant impression on McDaniels, who had just begun his tenure as Michigan's wide receivers coach.

"Coach McDaniels, that’s the type of dude that’s going to push you," Collins said. "He’s going to make sure every little detail is right. I appreciate him a lot, just harping on the small things because you really need that."

Texans wide receiver Nico Collins makes a reception during the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints at NRG Stadium.

Texans wide receiver Nico Collins makes a reception during the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints at NRG Stadium.

Striving during a time of uncertainty

Collins' attributes as a 6-foot-4 wideout left a great impression on McDaniels. He recalled being in awe of Collins as a bigger-body receiver who possessed skills usually not found in pass-catchers of his stature.

McDaniels has coached several big receivers throughout his career, including a short stint working alongside former Pro Bowler Brandon Marshall with the Denver Broncos in 2009.

"He was such a big kid with a big frame who had a lot of abilities that other big guys do not have," McDaniels said. "I remember being surprised by the physical nature of him. I've been around some great bigger frame receivers and Nico is one of them."

McDaniels began helping Collins hone his game. The outcome led to Collins establishing himself as a prominent target in the Wolverines' passing game, recording 632 yards on 38 receptions and six touchdowns as a sophomore.

His production increased as a junior. Working alongside McDaniels had Collins on the verge of a promising senior year. Perhaps, his first 1,000-yard season since his prep days at Clay-Chalkville High School in Clay, AL. 

However, the COVID-19 pandemic halted their plans. Instead of returning to Michigan for a shortened season, Collins opted out of his final year of eligibility to focus on training for the upcoming draft. 

"COVID was a blur for everyone," McDaniels said. "I don't know if there were a lot of right or wrong answers at that time. He was in and out of our building and was always working."

Nico Collins catches a touchdown pass as Blue Raiders safety Gregory Grate Jr attempts to break up the play during the second quarter at Michigan Stadium

Nico Collins catches a touchdown pass as Blue Raiders safety Gregory Grate Jr attempts to break up the play during the second quarter at Michigan Stadium

The decision was hard. Collins faced a lot of uncertainty, but McDaniels remained a consistent aspect.

Collins believed he was a step behind his peers after not participating in the COVID-19-shortened season.  But the next 11 months of training led to astonishing workouts at the Senior Bowl, where Collins caught the attention of the Texans. Ironically, the Texans were on the verge of hiring McDaniels as a position coach.

"I felt like I had to come from behind in order to catch up," Collins said. "I had to depend on the Senior Bowl. The only film scouts had of me came from my previous two seasons in college. I went through a lot of emotions at that time." 

The first task McDaniels had as Houston's wide receivers coach was to share his knowledge about Collins. His evaluation helped general manager Nick Caserio trade three mid-round picks to the Carolina Panthers to draft Collins with the No. 89 pick.  

When the two respective parties reunited in Houston for rookie mini-camp, McDaniels did not see a decline in Collins' production.  

"He stayed in good shape, regardless of not playing," McDaniels said. "It felt a lot like the Nico I knew at Michigan. "He had a lot of growing to do like all rookies. But he was ready to walk into our building."

Striving to overcome adversity en route to 1K

Collins showcased his potential during his first two seasons in the league. There were moments when his performance gave glimpses into the future, but none foreshadowed a 1,000-yard season.

He did not have a single game of reaching 100 yards. Before the 2023 season, Collins' best performance came during the Texans' 34-24 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Oct. 2, 2022. He caught three passes for a then-career-best 82 yards.

Several factors went into the mediocre start Collins experienced, but injuries played the most critical role. At the end of the 2022 season, improving his durability was a top offseason objective after missing 10 games due to a groin and foot injury.

"I did everything to get my body ready," Collins said. "I put in the extra time because of the injuries I was having; I felt I could prevent them. I spent the offseason strengthening my small muscles, and now, I see that the work I've put in to help my body has been working."

Everything fell into place for Collins in year three, from his durability to the improvements made under coach DeMeco Ryans and his staff — which still includes McDaniels. 

With four games left into the season, Collins has recorded 100 yards or more in four games. During the Texans' Week 13 victory over the Denver Broncos, Collins caught nine balls for 192 yards and a touchdown inside NRG Stadium. He felt he should have had 200 yards in the win.

"Nico is not only a great person, but he’s a hard worker," Stroud said. "He’s somebody who comes in with a working-man mentality...I’m excited to see his future and be there with him, and I’m really happy for him. That’s my brother, and I love him."

McDaniels said one of his favorite characteristics about Collins has always been his team-first mentality. Despite the individual accomplishments, Collins still has the success of the Texans at the forefront of his mind.

Reaching 1,000 receiving yards is a significant milestone that has left Collins ecstatic. However, he understands that individual accolades are not the lone measurables when defining greatness. 

After back-to-back losing seasons, winning is Collins' top objective when trying to duplicate the greatness of Bryant and Jordan.

"After coming off back-to-back seasons where we only had seven wins, it's crazy," Collins said. "As a team, we have to continue grinding and being us. We have to stay consistent. Keep working. And everything else is going to work out."