HOUSTON -- One of the biggest problems for the Houston Texans will be replacing the production of assumed "former QB'' Deshaun Watson. The other will be finding for whoever takes over under center a new No. 1 receiving option.
In the past two years, Houston fans have seen the top two weapons leave via trade and free agency. In the trade heard around the world, All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins headed to Arizona for a second-round pick. Then, coming off his best season despite missing the final five games, Will Fuller inked a prove-it deal with the Dolphins this offseason after posting career-best numbers.
Houston now will rely on Brandin Cooks and the next man up to take over as at least the No. 2 for 2021. Could rookie target Nico Collins be that option?
Cooks certainly is under the impression following the first set of OTA's.
“How I feel about Nico, this guy doesn't look like a rookie to me,” Cooks said during this week's OTAs. “You talk about a guy who's out there that's coachable and is able to pick up things pretty fast. You love to see that from a young guy, a guy who is explosive with natural hands and I look forward to continuing to work with him and seeing him grow."
Much is still unknown surrounding the third-round pick that the Texans elected to trade up for in April. The 6-foot-4 target was expected to be a sure-fire weapon for Michigan this season. Instead, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Collins opted out before the start of the Big. 10 only season.
The opt-out didn't matter to GM Nick Caserio. Enough was seen on tape from the two years prior to strike a trade with the Panthers on Friday night. And Collins believes he came relatively ready-made to the NFL thanks to the college coaching he got.
Jim Harbaugh "coached us like an NFL team would and gave us advice,” Collins said. “Things like that got me ready for the NFL. He got me ready for life after football, too. Harbaugh did a lot for me and I’m thankful he was my coach and I’m blessed I played under him, for sure.”
Add in his frame, size, catch radius and 4.42 second 40-time, what's not to like about his potential?
“We had an idea that we liked his size,” Texans coach David Culley said. “He is the prototype wide receiver, big strong, 50/50-catch-type guy in this league and we feel like he’ll bring that to us. We’re looking forward to that. Very tough kid.”
The ability to bully cornerbacks in the Big 10 was an uncanny one for Collins. He finished the 2019 campaign with 37 receptions for 729 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 19.7 yards per reception.
Unlike Fuller, Collins will rely on his size to win contested catches. Cooks will need to step up as the speedy option entering his second season at NRG Stadium.
It shouldn't be a problem since he recorded his fifth 1,000-yard season (1,150) as the Texans' new top target.
“He’s a pro’s pro (who’ll help) our young guys learn how to do things quickly,” Culley said of Cooks. “He’s had success in this league. He’s a leader. He’s exactly what our team needs. Looking forward to him not only being the kind of player he’s been, but being even better.”
Cooks will be viewed as the leader of the receiving corp entering his eighth season. Although 27, he's crossed the finish line of every team's goal twice. Now, he'll look to pass on the knowledge to younger talent such as Collins.
It's a role Cooks enjoys as now the mentor instead of the mentee.
“I love it,” Cooks said. “I had guys that looked out for me coming up. I’m trying to repay that — pay it forward with guys like Nico and the young guys.”
Expectations for Collins will only grow as the season progresses. The Texans traded away two fourth-round draft picks and a fifth-round selection to move back up into the top 100. For that much, fans will expect much more than average.
A big part of the offseason will be learning the new offense under Culley. Collins will have a chance to learn faster than most due to his past working with pass-game coordinator Pep Hamilton and assistant wide receivers coach Ben McDaniels during their time in Ann Arbor.
Every receiver has a chance to become the next leading target. Culley though has been impressed with Collins and other younger targets' ability to adapt and go beyond what was expected through several early practices.
Those guys have picked up things very well, and they have a good chance to be productive because of the way they’re going about their business as far as learning what we’re all about," Culley said. "I’m happy with where they’re at right now.”