Alabama’s Landon Collins — a Big hitter who’s Easy-going — relishes his time back in New Orleans _lowres

Alabama defensive back Landon Collins (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

For the second time in three years, the Dutchtown High School football program will be in the spotlight when the NFL draft unfolds Thursday night.

In 2013, former Dutchtown and LSU star Eric Reid was the second safety to come off the board when the San Francisco 49ers selected him with the 18th pick of the first round.

This time, it’s Landon Collins’ turn.

Like Reid, Collins declared for the draft a year early after his junior season at Alabama.

Like Reid, Collins is an All-American who should go in the first round because of his aggressive, hard-hitting style of play.

There are some questions, like almost any other draft prospect, but there’s no doubt Collins sits atop the list of likely picks from state schools — other than LSU — or players with Louisiana ties.

The 6-foot, 228-pound Collins, who covered the 40-yard dash in a respectable 4.53 seconds at the NFL combine workouts, is rated as the top strong safety in the draft and is viewed as a mid- to late-first round pick.

The questions about Collins have nothing to do with his ability to be physical and play in the box against the run, but rather his cover skills in a wide-open game where offensive coordinators these days are dialing up more passes than runs.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper is among those who think Collins, who was a Parade All-American as a senior at Dutchtown, may drop a little in the first round because he’s perceived as more of a run defender.

But Collins said at the NFL combine that just proved how versatile he is.

“You had to be tough down there and you had to be accountable,” Collins said at the NFL combine workouts in February. “So every play that came your way, you had to make the play.

“In the middle of the field, I had to increase my range; doing that helped me going from sideline to sideline,” he said. “Knowing both positions and being versatile, I can drop to the back (end) or be up close if they need me to.”

NFLDraftScout.com, which updated its list of draft-eligible players Tuesday, has Collins rated as the top strong safety in the draft and 25th player available overall.

Still, Kiper believes Collins has enough cover skills, referencing some big plays he made in a narrow win at Arkansas, to warrant a first-round pick for teams in need of a safety in a year that doesn’t have a lot of them.

“You saw plays made in that game,” Kiper said during a conference call late last month. “You saw the ability to track a ball down the field. He’s a system safety … he’s an ‘in-the-box’ guy and he shows up at the right place at the right time an awful lot in a lot of games.”

Collins had 103 tackles, three interceptions, broke up seven passes and forced a fumble and recovered two last fall in helping the Crimson Tide reach the College Football Playoff semifinal round.

“Landon’s a very, very explosive, physical, big-hitter,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said at the school’s pro day last month. “Has got really good ball skills, can play man-to-man. He’s very instinctive.

“There’s not very many guys that have his size and speed and athleticism that play in the secondary. Those things can be intimidating to a lot of receivers. I think Landon’s going to be a fantastic NFL player.”

At least six other state players from schools other than LSU or Louisiana natives have received draftable grades from NFLDraftScout.com — but likely will have to wait until Saturday to hear their name called.

Topping the list are Tulane cornerback Lorenzo Doss, a New Orleans native, and Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson, a teammate of former LSU running back Terrence Magee at Franklinton High School.

Both Doss, who is ranked 23rd among cornerbacks, and Robinson, who’s rated as the No. 15 running back, are projected to go in the fifth round.

UL-Monroe’s record-setting kicker, Justin Manton, is rated as the top kicker in the draft, but is projected to go in the sixth to seventh rounds.

Southeastern quarterback Bryan Bennett, Northwestern State defensive tackle Deon Simon, a former Glen Oaks High School star, and McNeese State guard Antoine Everett are projected by NFLDraftScout.com as possible seventh-rounders to free agent.