Mobile, AL -- Entering the 2018 college football season, there was little buzz for the likes of TCU's L.J. Collier. Instead, the fanfare was focused on his teammate and fellow pass rusher, Ben Banago.
And while Banago is also at the Senior Bowl and had a good performance yesterday, the play of Collier demanded my attention at practice.
The Senior Bowl 1-on-1's are geared towards defensive linemen in general, but there are no guarantees. To take advantage, players need to show technical prowess and/or elite physical tools.
L.J. Collier's strong first impression started yesterday at the weigh-ins. By checking in at 6-foot-2, 280 pounds and 34.75" arms, Collier confirmed his profile as a favorable B-gap defender. And then we hit the practice field. We talk about length as an asset, but why is it important?
Traditional power rushes involve a hard charge up-field before pressing and extending. It can be done with both hands or one, but length prevents blockers from establishing their hands on you as a rusher. And Collier showed that extension/length in drills.
Take this rep against Kansas State OL Dalton Risner (a potential first-round pick) as an example.
Collier's rush takes him inside against an over-set, but Risner recovers admirably. That is until Collier establishes his hands on the chest and presses Risner to full extension. The upper body power and length cause a misstep from Risner and eventually put Dalton on his back.
B-gap defenders need to illustrate this kind of extension skill, upper body strength and length to guarantee they're able to uncover in the gap and challenge the ball. So consider that box checked.
Collier wasn't just raw power, either. He showed grace in collecting his balance off of contact, as evidenced by this rep against Charlotte OG Nate Davis.
This is a strong rush, even with a questionable challenge from Davis. Collier addresses Davis square, giving himself two lanes to challenge and press through gaps. Collier uses his hands to yank Davis off his his pass set and create a soft angle to slip through and continue to the quarterback. But see how fluid Collier is coming off of contact? He's a natural athlete in this scenario, no easy task at 280 pounds to collect and subsequently redirect to his target.
That bodes well for interior rushes going forward. 11-on-11 situations are much more congested and interior pass rushers aren't afforded a lot of extra real-estate to come to balance before turning the corner.
Collier comes flat and does drift up-field, exactly what you want to see.
Collier has his work cut out for him the rest of the week. Day 2's practice performance is a "TBA"...the teams are practicing at South Alabama's indoor facilities, which are closed to media.
But I want to see more of the same. Collier is an exciting prospect on this early glimpse but it is important that I not get swept away in the hype of traits. That's where the Jihad Wards of the world come in. Collier has to play at a consistent level this week, and then I'll need to vet the tape.
Even if there is a disconnect between his player tape and his Senior Bowl performances, it's not a death sentence for his NFL career.
I know I'm going to like Collier regardless because of his traits. It's simply going to determine whether or not he's a Day-2 prospect or a Day-3 developmental player with "upside".
It's always a hard line to draw: liking a player but needing to distinguish his value. But for now, I'll simply appreciate a strong opening statement for a player I hadn't expected to see flash here in Mobile.