I've always loved La'El Collins. When I first wrote about him three years ago. At the time, I wrote, "I see Collins becoming our starting left tackle for at least two years, and potentially even four. He will then move on to being a 1st round NFL draft pick." Today, La'El Collins announced he would be returning for his Senior season, which will be his second year as LSU's starting left tackle.
Collins spent his sophomore season as our starting left guard, a move I'm still not entirely sure I understand, before shifting to LT last season. He's yet to become the type of All-American hog mollie I anticipated, but he's played every season of his collegiate career (impressive for an OL), and will have started three of them. Collins was short and to the point in his statement today, but a brief sentence he uttered I think encapsulated things perfectly.
"I haven't maximized my potential."
And he's exactly right. Doing tape reviews of games, Collins would often stand out. It wasn't uncommon to see him eight, 15, 25 yards downfield, moving someone along. He's big and athletic and mean. But he's not been amazing... yet. And that's just enough to drive him back to Baton Rouge for one more season. Collins didn't disclose what NFL scouts shared with him regarding his draft grade, and though I've seen rumblings that some believe he's bound for the inside, I still think he has NFL LT talent. His problems in 2013 were mostly inconsistency. This isn't the case of a guy being outmatched by superior athletes or peaking. The goods are still there, but 2014 will be the time to put them all together.
Another great year of tape and Collins could project himself into the 1st rounder he's always wanted to be. The decision is particularly saavy when you consider the immensely deep class of offensive tackles headed to this draft. Hell, there's three tackles in the SEC alone this season that will likely all go in the 1st round (Matthews, Kouandjio, Robinson). Start tossing in guys like Lewan, Martin, and Hurst, and the odds of Collins sneaking into that top round, or even into the 2nd look all the more slim. So come back, take your chances and move along next year.
But I get the hunch that Collins' desires extend even beyond that. A soft-spoken, polite young man, Collins was an honor student and Eagle Scout in high school. Education isn't something his family gives lip service too. He's quite literally, a student athlete. And while I maintain no illusions about the integrity of those two words used together, Collins embodies it. He's coming back to get his degree. After that, he'll try his hand at the NFL.
Collins' play drew superb reviews at spots this season, but we can't mention that without also acknowledging the lackadaisical effort at the conclusion of the Alabama game. He struggled with outside speed rushers, but really, shouldn't we expect any first time LT to do so? I think it's something he make huge strides with during his senior year. His run blocking is there, which why many project him to slip down to the inside. If the passing block catches up, we're going to be right back talking about him as a high pick next season.
What's also interesting is that Collins opted to return without knowing who his position coach will be for his senior season. Some may view that as a slight on former LSU OL coach Greg Studrawa, but I think it's more of an insight into his love for LSU and genuine belief that he can get a lot better.
His return is a huge boost for an LSU team that is losing a ton of offensive production heading into 2014. LSU will feature new starters at quarterback, receiver (2x), running back and at least one offensive lineman. Throw in the loss of Alfred Blue and J.C. Copeland, and we're talking about virtually an all new cast of characters on offense next season. When you are introducing a new QB to the fold, having an established backside protector can be a major boost. It's unclear yet what the LSU offense will look like under, presumably, Anthony Jennings, but Collins returning can only help.
But we can dive into all of that later. Today is about no. 70, and his decision to return to Baton Rouge. For Collins, NFL money can wait, because it's coming no matter what.