LSU OT La’el Collins heads into the 2015 NFL Draft on a high note after finishing his collegiate career with the SEC’s most prestigious award for offensive linemen. A consensus first day pick, the only questions surrounding the former Tiger are just how early in the first round he is selected and if the team that selects him moves him to guard.
(Editor’s Note: This article was written before the recent revelations regarding Collins being sought for questioning in the death of a pregnant woman.)
In his final season for Louisiana State University, the starting left tackle earned first-team All-SEC honors as voted on by Southeastern Conference coaches and media. Collins was also named second-team All-America by USA Today and the Associated Press. In addition, the true senior won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, which recognizes the top offensive lineman in the SEC as voted by the league’s coaches.
Over his 45 game career at LSU, Collins started 38 contests, with 13 coming at left guard in his sophomore season before sliding over to left tackle for his final 25 starts. The three-year starter was also voted team captain and received the Charles McClendon Award – which goes to the most outstanding player on the team – during his senior year.
In all, Collins played 2,533 offensive snaps and notched 222.5 knockdowns in his collegiate career, according to the Tigers coaching staff. The offensive lineman also helped lead LSU to their highest rushing yards per game average (224.5) since their 1997 campaign.
At the Senior Bowl, Collins turned in an impressive week of practice, running positional drills at both tackle and guard, according to those in attendance.
Tale of the Tape
At 6-foot-4, the 21-year-old Collins weighed in at 305-pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine.
He ran the 40-yard dash in 5.12 seconds with a 10-yard split of 1.81 seconds, while also tallying 21 reps on the 225-pound bench press, where the average mark at the Combine for offensive tackles was 25 reps.
Collins completed the three-cone drill in 7.70 seconds and the 20-yard short shuttle in 4.63 seconds. He also recorded a 27-inch vertical and 108-inch broad jump. In addition to his Combine results, the offensive lineman had an exceptional showing during positional drills, according to reports.
Just a month later at LSU’s Pro Day, Collins checked in at 320 pounds – a solid weight that he should be able to carry well without losing mobility at either tackle or guard at the next level. The sure-fire first rounder only took part in individual workouts handled by NFL personnel at his Pro Day.
What He Does Well
A bruiser in the ground game, Collins excels when plowing straight ahead, operating in bulldozer-like fashion and often flattening defenders to the turf. The lineman also displays sound lateral footwork, both in his kick slide when in pass protection and on the angle in the run game.
Finisher In Run Game
The LSU coaching staff credited Collins with a team-leading 88 knockdowns during his 2014 season, including the three captured below:
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Starting with a quick first step off the snap, Collins uses his strong hands at contact to control the block, gaining inside position and turning the defender away from the path of the running back. The left tackle relies heavily on his upper body strength to initially move his target before displaying good leg drive as he rolls his hips into the fit of block and finishes all the way to the ground.
Even when not sound in his technique, such as on the second play shown in the above video, Collins’s exceptional upper body mass and functional strength typically allows him to overcome any shortcomings in his base and lower body flexibility.
While an excellent straight-ahead drive blocker, Collins also triumphs when run setting laterally, such as on the two plays below:
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The left tackle executes a textbook lateral step out of his stance in order to center his target on the angle block. At contact, Collins delivers a strong punch, maintaining control of the block by keeping his hands tight to the defender’s body. The lineman then exhibits tremendous footwork as he turns his opponent, acting as a revolving wall between the defender and the ball carrier.
Collins’s footwork and short-area agility as a run blocker make him an easy fit in any blocking scheme, whether at tackle or guard.
Kick Slide & Recovery Skills
The offensive lineman’s footwork in the running game carries over to his technique in pass protection, as shown below:
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Out of pass sets, Collins displays a fluid kick slide with good balance in his subsequent steps as he continues to gain depth. In the play above, Collins stays square to the pass rusher the entire way and positions himself for the counter spin back to the inside.
Collins’s balance and quick feet in pass protection also allows him to react and shutdown both inside and outside counter moves on most occasions:
[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Recovery.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Recovery.jpg”]
The tackle demonstrates superb body control, keeping the defender centered to his body as he mirrors counter moves with relative ease. Collins also uses his length effectively to remain engaged with the pass rusher, particularly on the second play where he widens the defender well outside the hash to create a throwing lane for his QB.
Stunt & Blitz Recognition
In the games reviewed, Collins held his own against stunts and blitzes, showing adequate recognition with the necessary athleticism to react and recover:
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On the end-tackle stunt highlighted above, Collins wards off the slanting defensive end first, before quickly shuffling back to pick up the looping defensive tackle on the outside. The lineman once again uses his long arms to impede the progress of the pass rusher, buying additional time and space in the pocket for his QB to escape.
At the next level, Collins will need to refine his hand usage in pass protection, as he has a tendency to start too low, exposing his chest to a pass rusher’s punch. He also revealed some stiffness in his technique at times, bending more from the waist than the knees.
While an effective run blocker overall, Collins is not always efficient in his process, relying too heavily on his upper body and failing to roll his hips and feet into the fit of the block:
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By bending from the waist – and sometimes not bending at all – Collins places a considerable amount of stress on his upper body, leading him to engage blocks too high and top heavy and significantly impacting his balance at times. Without a strong base to augment his natural strength, Collins does not consistently maximize his power and ability to sustain a block.
Though not detrimental to his play at the collegiate level, these lapses in technique are more likely to be exploited by NFL talent unless corrected.
Pass Protection Hand Placement
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Collins slides out to meet the pass rusher but starts – and keeps – his hands too low prior to engagement, exposing his chest to the defender’s initial punch. From there, Collins struggles to absorb the contact and reset his lower body, instead giving up sizable real estate within the pocket.
Pass Protection Balance
In addition, poor hand placement has a snowball effect that leads to poor balance and an anxious quarterback:
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After allowing the defender to gain inside leverage on the punch, Collins is left hopping backward as he attempts to re-establish his base and balance. But the lineman is unable to recover, forcing his QB to scramble out of harm’s way.
If Collins remains at tackle in the NFL, he will need to work on improving his hand speed and correcting his pre-contact technique in pass protection. These concerns can be more easily hidden if he moves to guard.
Comparable Player: Duane Brown
With similar results at the combine and a near carbon-copy build, Collins compares favorably to Houston Texans All-Pro left tackle Duane Brown – a first round pick (26th overall) in the 2008 NFL Draft. Coming out of Virginia Tech, even scouting reports on Brown were similar to those on Collins – right down to the superior upper body strength and questionable hand technique.
Although perhaps best suited for, at least, a switch to right tackle given some of his inconsistencies in pass protection, former LSU OL La’el Collins enters the draft as one of the elite prospects in his class. While the offensive lineman may more easily slot into a power-man blocking system, offenses with zone-based schemes shouldn’t shy away from Collins as he exhibits above average short-area quickness paired with excellent footwork. A punishing run blocker with workable technique and enough athleticism to continue to improve his craft, the future first rounder should be able to make a smooth transition from the competitive SEC to the NFL.
Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Filipiak.
Brian Filipiak knows about proper blocking technique, the basics of run defense, how to defeat an overload, and the point-of-attack.
Games watched: Florida (2014), Wisconsin (2014), Auburn (2014), Arkansas (2014), Ole Miss (2014).
Game footage courtesy of draftbreakdown.com with additional credits to @AndrewQ_, @aimalarsalla and @ljacarlton.