ST. PETERSBURG - In the postseason college all-star games, there are always players who catch your eye for whatever reason who you then begin to track and follow up through the draft. For me at the 2013 East-West Shrine Game, Mount Union wide receiver Jasper Collins is that guy.
It's not because Collins is a hyped-up small-school prospect. It's not because he has elite size, speed or stats. It's simply because of the helmet Collins wears on his head while he's running routes and catching passes. The purple helmet with the simple script of "RAIDERS" across each side.
Jasper Collins is another in the line of wide receivers starting to come out of Division-III powerhouse Mount Union. The Purple Raiders won their 11th Division-III National Championship in the past 20 seasons and will likely be sending their third draftable wide receiver to the NFL since 2008. The Indianapolis Colts drafted now-Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon in 2008 in the sixth round while the Jacksonville Jaguars drafted Cecil Shorts in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. A guy like Collins coming out of the same school will get more of an eye from the NFL now that those guys have proven they can be impact players.
Collins has a lot to prove to scouts during the week of practices, however, and he told me what was on top of the list.
"That I can compete on this level," Collins said when asked what he's looking to prove this week. "Obviously I've got that D-III tag, so I'm just trying to come out here and compete and show the scouts and everyone out here that I can compete at this level."
Collins rattled off six consecutive 100-yard performances to end his senior season at Mount Union, including eight receptions for 120 yards in the Stagg Bowl against St. Thomas (Minn.) to help lead his team to its 11th championship. He won't be going against the same level of competition in the East-West Shrine Game, however, as he's up against the likes of Aaron Hester and Micah Hyde in practice.
"Yeah, there's a difference," Collins said about practicing with higher-division players. "I mean football is football, so I mean not much but obviously bigger, faster, stronger guys."
I'm told Collins did well in the first day of practice and he impressed me on the first day I saw him. His overall day was up and down, however, as he struggled to get separation in press coverage and really had problems beating the jam off the line. When Collins isn't jammed, however, he can get open with his quick cuts and route running,
Collins reminds me a bit of Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts III when I first saw at the 2011 East-West Shrine Game in Orlando, Fla. He's not the biggest or the fastest, but when he's up against off coverage he finds ways to get open and catch the football.
The impact of Shorts and Garcon in the NFL leaves a big impression on the other players at Mount Union, letting them play in situations like this with the confidence that they're good enough to compete. And it shows.
"I think it does a whole lot," Collins said. "They came through our program, they went through the same things we went through. They did the same things we did. Them being playmakers in the NFL shows us that it can happen from that level.
"That means a lot."