Under the Microscope: La’el Collins


Prior to the 2014 season, many (including myself) projected La’el Collins as a guard at the next level. His feet and balance were simply too poor for him to be able to sustain success on the edge. But 2014 brought along a new and improved Collins, a Collins that could thrive on the edge.

The senior tackle from LSU comes in at roughly 6’5″ and 315 pounds. Aside from the occasional freak show like Nate Solder or Taylor Lewan, Collins fits right in with the NFL mold of height and weight. Nothing special, but he’s not at any sort of disadvantage.

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Collins’ biggest asset is his strength, both in his upper body and in his lower body. His upper body strength allows him to deliver a devastating punch when initiating contact with a defender. Furthermore, it allows him to extend his arms into the defender’s frame and slow their motion around the edge or contain them entirely. In pass protection, that ability is huge considering that Collins, though improved, does not possess the top notch foot quickness to always beat rushers to thee edge.

Because of his halting punch and upper body strength to reset rushers, Collins does not have to have the “elite” foot speed that people continue to be fascinated by. His strength, demeanor and wingspan (only one of which can truly be taught/earned) allow him to regularly beat pass rushers. Though it would make Collins an undeniably elite talent if his footwork and jump off of the snap were quicker, they are not necessary pieces to C0llins game. On most occasions, length and strength wins the battle.

Below, Collins shoots for the inside rusher first, then realizes a delayed edge rusher on a stunt is gunning for his quarterback. Collins does not make it over to the delayed rusher quickly enough to get in front of him, but he does possess the strength to knock the rusher off of his course, buying just enough time for the quarterback to move.

One promising sign of possible improvement for Collins is that he is always looking to reset his feet. Though waist bending and poor pass sets were problematic in 2013, Collins has taken strides in becoming a more efficient mover. Now, as said before, Collins does not have the kind of top notch quickness people love to see, but the fact that he is willing to continually move his feet is much more comforting than someone who stops their feet and bends, like a Cam Erving (before he moved to center, that is), will make his development come along faster and more smoothly.

Once people begin to look past his absence of lightning quick feet and see the whole picture, Collins will begin to be more accepting as a pass blocker. That said, what makes Collins an absolute joy to watch is that he is a human bulldozer.

Few, if any, linemen in college football right now are more dominant and efficient at run blocking than Collins. If Collins’ job is to seal off the edge and turn the defender outward, he does it. If his assignment is to move up-field and headhunt for a linebacker, he finds that linebacker and flat-backs him. Even when simply being asked to chip a defender to help a fellow linemen before following through with his own assignment, Collins’ power jolts said defender and makes his teammate’s job much easier.

Quite simply, Collins bodies people. By that, I mean that he violently initiates contact, drives them back and completely washes them out of the play. In essence, Collins single-handedly creates gaping rushing lanes for his running backs, which can be terrifying for defensive when someone as talented as Leonard Fournette is barreling through that lane.

Though he is excellent at handling one blocker, Collins has also displayed the ability to take multiple defenders out of a play. Below are two examples of him doing so, even if the running back fails to take advantage of it in the first example.

The thing about Collins is that these examples are not “cherry-picked.” They are normal plays for him. It would not be outlandish to watch three or four games of Collins and count his “failed” run plays on one hand. He is a pulverizing run blocker and will make his money there.

Despite his overlooked physical serviceability in pass protection and utter dominance as a run blocker, Collins has mental struggles in pass protection. Typically, stunts and delayed blitzers will get him to either choose the wrong defender or hesitate altogether and let both defenders by. Considering how comfortable he is at finding defenders when run blocking, it would seem as if there is room for Collins to improve mentally as a pass blocker and more fluidly pick up these rushers.

It is not a physical hindrance, thus it is something he can learn. Early on in his career, there is a good chance it is an issue and is the reason for a number of his “failed” pass protections. That said, he can develop the instincts and comfort needed for these situations.

La’el Collins is going to get over-analyzed as a pass blocker and that is a shame. Though, lest we not forget that DJ Fluker went 11th overall and became a quality tackle despite having footwork concerns. The thing is, Collins is already much more polished and fluid. In the absolute worst case scenario, Collins struggles to handle the edge, gets moved to guard and becomes an All-Pro because of his run blocking prowess and ability in a phone booth.

When it is all said and done, Collins is going to be a top 15 pick next spring, and even that may be a bit low. Collins is truly a dominant player at what he does, has already shown improvement and has the prerequisites to continue to develop. Collins is a top five caliber player, even if he does not get taken there on draft weekend.