CFF Player Profile: La'el Collins, OT
The quiet man.
During the season it didn’t feel like our analysts were talking much about La’el Collins. In a lot of respects that must have been the dream scenario for LSU because Collins was so rarely beat in critical junctions (the passing game) that you had to double check he was on the field.
Yet he was and for 334 snaps he was asked to pass protect and would give up just four hurries the entire year (with an additional one in the Senior Bowl). Quite the return, and while his pass blocking snaps were lower than his rivals to be the top lineman taken (LSU had about 1.6 times as many running plays as passing plays) he certainly put himself in the frame to go early.
When you first watch Collins in the run game you get a bit annoyed by him. Upfield penetrators playing one gap can leaving him flapping his arms about as he heads knees first for the turf, with a tendency to lean exploited. At the second level he doesn’t always look interested or showcase great targeting skills. While Andrus Peat has no problem identifying targets and lots of problems engaging them, Collins is the exact opposite. He struggles to find a guy (blocking nobody far too often) but when he does it’s a joy to behold.
And that’s when you start realizing the good he does in the run game. He demonstrates good leg drive while working down the line and doesn’t settle for just setting the edge, but rather widening the B-gap on his inside shoulder. He also demonstrates the kind of first-step quickness that he can get across a defensive lineman’s face and seal once he gets there. When he gets the advantage off the snap he is bound to win and it’s no surprise that 16.2% of his run blocks ended with a positive grade (fifth-highest of all draft-eligible tackles). That’s largely down to how good his hands can be in the run game, with an ability to latch on to defenders and eliminate them from the play.
The numbers with Collins really do tell a story of a tremendously reliable pass protector. For much of the year it was a snooze watching him with him pitching shut outs in 11 games. That’s an eye-catching number that saw him shoot to the top of our Pass Blocking Efficiency rankings.
There are some things to remember. He wasn’t put in as many deep drops as other tackles (he pass blocked on 73 seven-step drops compared to Andrus Peat and Brandon Scherff both going over 125) and he did avoid some of the more explosive rushers as well. It leaves him a little untested against true speed, but Collins did display good feet, getting good depth and width on his kick step that allowed him to mirror rushes and counter any inside moves.
If there’s one area he did struggle with (and one that Trey Flowers exploited) it was with his blocking of a speed to power move, where he showed he might need to improve his strength if he’s going to anchor against the behemoths of the NFL. But all things considered he was the most impressive pass blocker of the class and the numbers show that up.
Collins looks the safest pick of any offensive tackle in this draft and by a decent margin. He can get better against the run — and might need to add some strength to deal with the power of NFL pass rushers — but he looks like a pretty polished prospect who should slide in from Day 1 and represent an upgrade on an average tackle with the capacity to be so much more. Recent years haven’t seen many tackles take the league by storm, but Collins is the best bet in the 2015 draft class to do so.
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