I selected LSU left tackle La'el Collins as the first offensive lineman to evaluate this spring. I used Draft Breakdown to watch him play against Wisconsin, Auburn, Florida, Ole Miss and Alabama. Those represented the first, sixth, seventh, ninth, and 10th games of LSU's 2014 season, respectively.
La'el Collins' game tape was boooooring. And that was actually a good thing.
Don't get me wrong, Collins had some really nice plays in the five games I watched. A lot of them. What he didn't have were many bad plays. At all.
Oh, he has some work to do with some aspects of his run blocking, that's for sure. However, whether it was a Gator, a Rebel, a Tiger, or any other opponent lined up across from him, Collins looked pretty much the same every play of every game, no matter what.
One of the things I prize in offensive linemen is consistency. That is especially true when it comes to their pass blocking technique. Watching Collins sit back to pass block reminded me of watching Taylor Lewan last year; everything looked the same from play to play no matter the opponent. Collins was so consistent with his patience and footwork that I had to rewind to make sure I wasn't watching the same play over and over again.
For a fan who loves to read my breakdowns and watch the highlight gifs we add to them, this is probably also going to be one of the most boring columns of mine you've ever read.
That's because Collins isn't some uber-strong, choke-slamming behemoth. Instead, he's Mr Consistency, who doesn't give up pressure one-on-one and who also, on occasion, will have a tall stack of pancakes or two (yes, this is a euphemism).
All he did game after game was take the same kick steps back, staying completely balanced while patiently waiting for the rushers to get within arm's length so he could put his hands on them. Once he got his hands on them, their rush was pretty much over, and that's exactly what you want out of your starting left tackle.
Now, to be fair, its not like LSU was chucking and ducking the ball all over the place in most of those games, so Collins wasn't really on an island all that much. The Auburn game was the one exception where they got down early so they had to pass a little more than usual, but in the other four games there just weren't a ton of drop back passes.
I don't give a shit.
There were enough drop back passes in every game that you could see whether Collins could handle the opposing team's best pass rushers one-on-one. As far as I can tell that answer was never a negative one, at least not in those five games. (Yes I'm aware that he played against Dante Fowler; go back and watch that game and you will agree with me.)
Collins and his left guard buddy did have some issues trying to handle pass rush games, but the blame on those plays could be spread around to several people. I didn't mark him down for that.
Hell, there are starting offensive lines in the NFL that struggle blocking some of those same pass rush games. Just pop in any tape of the Buccaneers on offense from last season. Trust me, he's not alone in having those issues.
Besides, its not like he got beat every time he faced a pass rush game. Several times he more than held his own.
Collins' athleticism stood out in those five games, but what I actually think helped him as a pass blocker more than anything else was his patience with shooting his hands. I never saw him off-balance or too aggressive when blocking a guy one-on-one. Instead, he would get his depth without punching and force the rusher to come to him. Then, just as the rusher came to a point where he had to make a decision between rushing outside or coming back inside, Collins would finally punch and shock them in their tracks. What I saw in five games from him as a pass blocker is a guy ready to step right in at left tackle and block NFL pass rushers next year without all that much help sent his way.
That, in and of itself, would be enough for me to rate Collins as a first-rounder; however, the fact that he also has a little bit of a nasty streak pushes Collins just a little bit higher in my book. He loves to finish off his blocks, which only makes me more excited about him as a player.
Watching Collins pancake guys on backside cutoff blocks was low-key hilarious to me because you could almost see the defenders give in to the inevitable after initially trying to fight it. Talk about a shitty feeling when a guy is mauling you and you can't do anything to get him to stop. That's basically the predicament those defensive linemen found themselves in.
The one major criticism I have of Collins is that he tends to be a little too aggressive on reach blocks. Reach blocks are when an offensive lineman tries to get outside leverage on a defender who is lined up wide of his outside shoulder. Athletically, Collins had no problem coming off the ball and taking a good angle to try to make those blocks. However, he was so aggressive in trying to stay low and get a push on the defender that often times that defensive lineman or linebacker was able to toss him outside and make the play in the gap on Collins' inside. Some of that probably had to do with Collins "only" weighing a little over 300 pounds, but most of it was just bad technique by him as far as I can tell.
It was amazing to see a guy who was so patient as a pass blocker repeatedly miss run blocks because he was overly aggressive. But it happened a few too many times to write it off as just an aberration.
I will say that given the choice between an excellent pass blocker and an excellent run blocker, most teams would go for the pass blocker high in the draft. The run blocking stuff is correctable with Collins, but guys his size with his athleticism and ability to mirror pass rushers off the edge simply do not grow on trees.
That's why I would expect Collins to come off the board in the top half of the first round. Hell, to be honest with you, I kinda wish my Bucs had an extra first-round pick -- no matter who ends up playing quarterback, the offensive line as currently constructed is likely to get him killed.
Selecting La'el Collins would go a loooooong way toward fixing that.
Hey, a man can dream, can't he?