I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can. Find all the profiles here.
Jalen Collins, CB, LSU - 6'1, 203 - RS Junior - 4.48 40
Few schools have given the NFL as many highly-ranked defensive backs in the last several years as LSU has, so if you are simply looking to guilt-by-association you never let a draft season go by without checking Baton Rouge's cupboards for more. And, while Patrick Peterson, Tryann Mathieu, Eric Reid, and even Ryan Clark are on the positive side of the proverbial ledger, Cowboys fans can only see Morris Claiborne at this juncture as the cautionary tale that reminds us that we aren't drafting programs, we are drafting the guy in the uniform.
Enter the curious case of Jalen Collins. He has 4 years in the LSU program (red shirt and 3 seasons), yet has started 10 games. This, of course, tells us that it is tough to be a starting corner at LSU as they always are stocked with talented players, but also that our subject here took a while to develop and even in 2014 was not the belle of the ball. To examine the tricky study, I grabbed Alabama, Wisconsin, Texas A&M, and Notre Dame.
What I liked: Collins is a left corner who can do everything pretty well. He is pretty good in coverage - zone or man. He is pretty good in run support, especially when he seems into it. He is pretty good at finding the ball. And he is pretty solid in the tools department. The question is whether or not there is more to his game than we presently see, as many think he is just becoming the player that he will be - this, at its core, is the draft-game in a nutshell. Perhaps his best trait is how well he plays downfield. If there is a long route, he seems to have those covered very well, which is priority one for a corner. Short throws hurt, but long throws kill. He can run hip-to-hip with relative ease down the sideline and then find and compete for the ball in the air. He also demonstrates (below) the ability to run down Melvin Gordon in the open field which perhaps shows his speed and Gordon's fatigue level, but still, that was an impressive show of wheels.
What I did not like: I thought his change of direction was very sloppy and was basically a target for comebacks and slants in front of him (when he was off and soft or in a zone look) where he could not get out of his back-pedal and hit the gas in enough time to impact the throw at all. Amari Cooper was all over him in that Alabama game with the same 2 routes over and over. He also appears to go back and forth on how interested he is in run support and throwing his shoulder into traffic or standing around the pile and letting someone else take the bruise. It is possible he was dealing with some level of injury that caused this behavior that would come and go, but on tape it doesn't always pass the test. And more than anything, you just want to know why he wasn't a bigger factor in 3 seasons at LSU. A nice player, but 90 tackles in 3 years and just spot duty for much of his tenure is curious when he played in parts of nearly 40 games. To compare, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu had over 200 tackles in the same amount of games.
Summary: When we talk about teams that "draft and develop", too often we stop at the draft part. But, guys like Collins can go one of two directions based on how you develop them. He is just 21 years old and has plenty of talent, now you have to decide if you could mold that into a very solid NFL starter. You also have to decide if "solid NFL starter" is good enough for you to spend a top pick on, because he doesn't seem to indicate he will be a star in this league and when people say his ceiling is as a #2 corner, I tend to agree. When I see 1st round grades on the guy, I want to know he can be my best corner, and frankly, I don't see that here. That said, if he is around in the 2nd round, that is where I would have to trust my staff's ability to work with his tools and make him a long-term answer at one of the most important positions on any roster in today's NFL. He is a solid prospect at just about every trait, and the league needs guys like this when Byron Maxwell demands $60m in free agency because there just are never enough corners.