Sparse cornerback talent remains in the free agent market, and teams looking to add to their secondaries must turn to the 2015 NFL Draft. Trae Waynes and Marcus Peters are first-round locks, with fast risers Kevin Johnson and Byron Jones perhaps joining them. P.J. Williams’s star has dimmed after a recent DUI arrest. Another option is LSU CB Jalen Collins, who has ideal size and athletic gifts but limited experience. Dave Archibald analyzes the junior’s game tape and projects his NFL future.
Jalen Collins started only 10 games in his career with the LSU Tigers, but a quick look at him makes clear why he’s projected to be a first-round pick: He stands 6’1” and is solidly built at 203 pounds, while possessing the speed and athleticism of a smaller player. Due in part to his inexperience, Collins has more rough edges than most high draft picks, but his rare physical traits give him a chance to be a star in the NFL.
Tale of the Tape
The chart below shows Collins’s measurement and performance in NFL Combine drills, as well as the percentile rank of how these figures stack up to other cornerbacks since 1999:
Data from NFL.com and NFLCombineResults.com
Collins height, weight, arm length, and hand span all measure above-average. He ran very well for his size, and recorded the second-best time in the three-cone drill, though his shuttle time was poor. The shuttle run shows off change-of-direction and acceleration abilities, qualities critical to cornerback play.He finished seventh among 19 CBs in the long shuttle, so his weak showing in the 20-yard version might have just been a fluke.
What He Does Well
Defending the Deep Ball
Collins doesn’t show textbook technique in shorter routes because of his limited experience, but he used his height and speed effectively to defend deep routes along the sidelines:
Collins lines up against Alabama’s Christion Jones (#22), backpedaling and then jamming the Crimson Tide receiver as he runs up the sideline. Pressure forces Alabama quarterback Blake Sims (#6) out of the pocket, extending the play, but Collins sticks with the receiver. When Sims lofts a pass toward Jones, the cornerback uses his length to leap and tip the ball away in front of the smaller receiver.
Collins is able to translate his physique into solid tackling and strong run defense. Like virtually every college cornerback, he is not consistent in this area, but he flashes the tools to be a fine run defender:
Wisconsin aligns with no receivers to the right side where Collins is playing, forcing him to stay alert for the run which ends up coming his way. Collins crashes down on lead blocker Derek Watt (#34), stoning the fullback, then comes off the block to wrap the legs of running back Corey Clement (#6).
Areas to Improve
Collins has raw athletic tools but struggles at times with poor footwork, especially in his backpedal:
Collins (#32) lines up in a press look against Alabama’s Amari Cooper (#9), perhaps the draft’s best receiver. Cooper made a lot of defensive backs look foolish as he led the SEC in every major receiving category in 2014, but Collins’s backpedal would look ugly against even lesser receivers. Rather than take quick, controlled steps as he moves backward, he seems to hop awkwardly on both feet, leaving him off-balance and slow to react when Cooper makes his cut.
This play led to a touchdown after subsequent poor tackling, including some by Collins. Alabama went back to the well with two more slants later in the game, again making Collins look bad, but on both occasions the Crimson Tide was unable to connect on the pass. Collins needs to improve his technique to reach his potential or NFL offenses will eat him alive.
Collins’s inexperience was on display not just in his footwork, but in his awareness of route concepts and zone responsibilities. Mississippi took advantage of that weakness early in its matchup with LSU.
Collins lines up across from wideout Laquon Treadwell (#1, blue arrow), who runs a quick slant inside, where he is picked up by a linebacker underneath. LSU appears to be running Cover 4, which leaves Collins responsible for the deep sideline. He plays with proper leverage, angling his body inside, but doesn’t account for running back Jaylen Walton (#6, red arrow), who runs a wheel route up the sideline.
Collins eventually realizes his mistake, whirls, and tries to make a play on the ball. This is a second mistake, as he might have been able to limit the damage by taking a more conservative angle and making a tackle. Instead he whiffs, and Walton picks up 43 yards before being forced out of bounds.
Aqib Talib. Like Talib, Collins is a big-bodied corner with speed. Talib eventually became a star with the Patriots and Broncos, but only after some growing pains in Tampa Bay. The team that drafts Collins should exhibit more patience than the Buccaneers did to get the most out of their draft investment.
Collins doesn’t have the tape of a top cornerback, and his recent foot surgery is a red flag for NFL teams to investigate. But because of his length, build, and speed, the 21-year-old will likely be selected in the first-round anyway. If the team that drafts Collins is looking for a savior and a day-one starter, they’re bound to be disappointed. If they have the patience and coaching to refine Collins’s technique and ease him into the playing rotation, they could have a future shutdown corner on their hands.
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