INDIANAPOLIS — Jalen Collins might have checked off the most important item on his checklist at the scouting combine when he measured in at 6-foot-1.
It turned out his listed height with LSU was a farce. But it was only a farce by an inch.
If it had been off by, say, two inches, the recent surge in his perceived draft stock might have plummeted. In today’s NFL, tall cornerbacks are en vogue — and by measuring in at the right height, Collins is in prime position to take advantage — and he could get drafted higher than anyone expected.
It’s a surprising development — even for Collins. A few months ago, he thought he could play in the NFL, but not many other people agreed with him. When he submitted his name to the NFL’s advisory committee, which is designed to let players know where they should expect to be drafted before declaring for the draft, they told him to return to college.
Collins objected, entered his name anyway, and now there’s a chance he could be selected in the first round of the NFL draft. It seems like a meteoric rise — maybe even a little unbelievable — but that’s where multiple NFL Network draft experts have his name listed. Going a step further, the NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, who is regarded as one of the foremost authorities on the draft, refereed to him as a top corner and called him “really intriguing.”
Collins expected to be drafted, otherwise he wouldn’t have entered his name into the fray, but even he’s surprised to see his name rising so fast.
“It’s pretty exciting to see that,” Collins said. “I feel like I’ve worked pretty hard. Seeing my grade as ‘come back to school’ and the seeing these mock drafts with me in the first round — it is kind of surprising.”
If it wasn’t for Collins’ belief in himself, he wouldn’t have been standing at a lectern answering questions about how it appears he’s in position to defy the odds. He’d instead be sitting in a classroom, thinking about how to improve some next season.
There wasn’t a specific moment or happening that caused Collins to put his name in the draft. He felt he performed well against Alabama’s Amari Cooper, one of the top receivers in this draft class. Overall, Collins recorded 38 tackles, one interception and nine pass breakups.
He felt his season was solid. And based on that conviction, he took the leap by entering the draft.
“I just felt like this was the best opportunity for me to maximize on the draft,” he said.
“I didn’t want to risk getting hurt.”
The LSU product said he met with several teams Thursday evening in informal settings. He was not sure if the New Orleans Saints, who are in the market for another cornerback, had scheduled anything with his representatives.
Collins will continue his climb up the board this weekend when he goes through drills at the combine. He’s been training in Orlando, Florida, with strength and conditioning coach Tom Shaw, whose website boasts says he’s worked with 142 first-round picks and 10 NFL MVPs.
He said he will go through all of the drills except the bench press. When asked how fast he expects to run the 40-yard dash, Collins said, “I just know I’m going to run fast.”
“I heard (Shaw) is one of the best with speed,” Collins said. “I had a lot of good work there, learned a lot of good things. I’m excited to see what Monday brings.”
Looking at Collins’ history, he’ll probably run faster than even he expects. This is a player who, several months ago, did not expect to be in the starting lineup after losing his starting job the year prior.
He found his way there, refocused himself and reclaimed the job. He used that platform to a build a draft stock only he believed in. Now, he might be one of the first cornerbacks selected in the draft.
Even he has to admit this is all a little crazy and surreal.
“I never really had a lot of hype or exposure like that on a big scale,” Collins said. “It’s pretty exciting.”