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Cowboys 2015 Draft Targets: LSU CB Jalen Collins

Because there has been such a high correlation in recent years between the top collegians invited to Valley Ranch for pre-draft visits and who the Cowboys end up drafting, it's important to know as much as possible about these players. As a service to you, BTB offers a series of detailed scouting reports on these players, compiled from the work of top draft analysts. Today, we look at LSU CB Jalen Collins.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

After a redshirt year in 2011, Jalen Collins played in all of  LSU's thirteen games the following campaign (starting one) and registered 30 tackles, six pass breakups and a pair of interceptions - enough for him to be selected to the Freshman All-SEC Team. In 2013, he lost his starting job after two games, but played in all thirteen, allowing 10 completions on 18 targets, collecting 22 tackles and breaking up a pair of passes. In 2014, he again played in thirteen games, starting seven, and leading the Tigers with 10 passes defensed, also contributing 38 tackles, nine pass breakups and an interception.

As this history suggests, Collins was an off-and-on starter for the Tigers, struggling with a combination of inconsistency and a deep LSU depth chart (he rotated in with Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson). As a result, he enters the draft with only ten starts under his belt - and his inexperience shows on tape: he's still learning technique and struggles to synch his feet and his eyes, which leads to his reacting late and playing out of control. This is exacerbated by the fact that he is aggressive, so his technique problems can lead to his being burned.

So, why would he be of interest to NFL teams? Tools, my friends, tools. Collins is a gifted prospect who, at 6'1", 203 pounds with "long" 4.4 speed, "brings the entire triangle" (height, weight, speed) with him. Although not particularly "twitchy," he is smooth and fluid in his movement. He's best when turning his hips and running down the field with receivers, showcasing his speed and technique to stay with them stride for stride, but struggles when asked to cover smaller, quicker receivers or to defend underneath routes like slants or digs.

In sum, he's the classic high-risk/ high-reward prospect, who has both a low floor and a very high ceiling. On one hand, he could be, well Mo Claiborne redux. On the other, he could fulfill the promise offered by a league insider cited below, who claims Collins "has the traits and ability to become a high-end starter and maybe the best cornerback from this draft."

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Want to scout like a boss? Let's start by looking at his measurables:

Height Weight Arms Hands 40yd 10yd Bench Vert Broad 3Cone 20ss pSPARQ (%)
6' 1" 203 32⅛" 9⅜" 4.48 1.50 -NA- 36" 124" 6.77 4.27 118.8 (56.1)

And here they are in the form of a spider graph, courtesy of the folks at Mockdraftable.com:

And over at Draft Breakdown, they have five of his games, all from 2014. Watch him in the season opener against Wisconsin (six tackles and a pass defensed); the October tilt against Ole Miss (one tackle, three PDs); the overtime loss to Alabama (six tackles, one PD); and two games - against Texas A&M and Notre Dame - cobbled into one tape.

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Let's see what our esteemed panel of scouts has to say about the former Tiger's game:

Gary Horton (ESPN.com) 5th-ranked CB; 38th overall:

Instincts/Recognition: Above-average eyes and recognition skills. Shows quality field awareness but will occasionally be a split-second late recognizing route concepts. Good route recognition, patience and feel for leverage when locked in press trail technique. Disciplined and rarely takes the bait off of play-action or double moves. Quick to diagnose and react against the run.

Cover Skills: Prototypical press cornerback. Displays above-average balance and fluidity with his movement skills. Easy turn-and-run to carry receivers downfield in press-technique. However, does not always use hands effectively at the line of scrimmage to disrupt receivers' release. Doesn't have elite quickness transitioning out of breaks, but has an above-average closing burst. Length and long speed provide him with outstanding overall range.

Ball Skills: Adequate playmaking instincts and anticipation, but not a finisher at this point. 25 career pass breakups compared to just three interceptions. Will occasionally be a split-second late getting head around to locate the ball. Average hand-eye coordination and will leave some interceptions on the field he should make (see: Ole Miss, 2014). Has a strong combination of length, strength and adequate leaping skills (36-inch vertical jump) to hold up in contested situations against bigger receivers.

Run Support: A hard edge-setter defending the run. Willing to get physical when hand is forced. Does a nice job of using length to control and disengage from blockers. Takes quality angles in pursuit. Tackles with proper leverage and uses length well wrapping up and securing tackles. Breaks down well in the open field.

Intangibles: Son of Valencia Collins and Jon Wallace. Will be a 22-year old rookie. Adequate work ethic. Had a minor history of clashing with coaches at LSU and was caught in the doghouse on occasion. Scouts have expressed minor concerns about ability to retain coaching. No significant off-field red flags, though.

Branden Thorn (CBSSports.com) 9th-ranked CB; 72nd overall:

Strengths: Prototypical size in terms of height, weight and length. Possesses tools that cannot be taught such as very good long speed and overall athleticism (tracked down Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon on a 65-yard sprint). Excels at turning his hips and mirroring receivers down the field on deep routes as well as with jump balls due to his ability to time his jump and high point the ball. Stays in-phase with all types of receivers both big and small down the field.

He isn't afraid to stick his nose in the action and get physical. Expresses disappointment in himself on completions, but shows the ability to move on to the next play with little to no drop off in effort or confidence.

Weaknesses: Struggles with his backpedal at times as he tends to get too high and on his heels, resulting in poor reaction time, particularly vs smaller/quicker receivers. This really showed vs. Amari Cooper in the '14 Alabama tape. Doesn't deliver much power or jolt when in press man coverage and gives easy releases too often. Very inexperienced player in terms of reps as a starter. Likely won't be able to step in right away as a starter, but can develop into one with time.

Compares to: Johnthan Banks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Collins and Banks are both 6-2, long, athletic players who could be similar pros. While Collins didn't play enough to have nearly as successful of a college career as Banks did, he excels at man coverage and possesses the instincts to decipher plays quickly. Both players demonstrate a good motor and physicality to have a strong presence in the run game as well. With Banks you have a player who had more experience and therefore was more polished coming out of college, particularly in his ball skills, but Collins has very similar physical traits and can develop into a player with the same impact over time.

Lance Zierlein (NFL.com) 2nd-ranked CB; 23rd overall:

Strengths: Rare combination of height, weight and speed. Has the foot quickness and twitch to trigger on demand. Uses soft, bouncy feet to change direction and drive instantly on throws. Has arm length to play from trail position and still knock passes away. Desired awareness in zone with extended playmaking range. Will make plays outside of his area and has speed to come across field to chase down a loose running back or receiver. Able to redirect from press coverage and will only get better with more coaching. Leaper with the ability to challenge and win 50/50 throws. Buys in and does his part in run support.

Weaknesses: Only 10 career starts. Plays with talent over technique. Needs to improve patience in press coverage rather than opening up too early. More of a straight-line burner than fluid, change-of-direction athlete. A little stiff-hipped and is a tick slow to open and accelerate. Plays with build-up speed over instant gas. Inconsistent to turn and find/track the ball. Not a naturally aggressive, physical player. Can hit with force, but doesn't go out of his way looking for it. Showed more aggression as a tackler earlier in season than he did to close the year.

Sources Tell Us: "They all have holes, but Collins is what you are looking for in an NFL cornerback with his length and speed. He isn't there yet, but he has the traits and ability to become a high-end starter and maybe the best cornerback from this draft." -- NFC director of personnel

NFL Comparison: Terence Newman

Dane Brugler (NFL Draft Guide) 10th-ranked CB:

Strengths: Passes the eye test with an excellent blend of height, build and length...good speed for the position with the athleticism to stay hip-to-hip with receivers, using his hands to keep them uncomfortable...good chase skills in pursuit - caught Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon from behind in (Sept. 2014)...not sudden, but quick for his size with lower body twitch to smoothly redirect his momentum...has shown the ability to calm his feet and stay coordinated in press...not afraid to get physical and use his length, showing up in run support...nice job with his eyes in the backfield to come off his man and compete for the ball with raw awareness - 28 passes defended the last three seasons.

Weaknesses: Messy technique with a bad habit of oversetting and not paying attention to his lower or upper body mechanics...highly inconsistent instincts and routinely a step late with his timing...playing nose-to-nose, but not making contact in press, giving up slants and losing off the line of scrimmage...doesn't show the alertness to adjust to receivers throughout the course of a game, losing his fundamentals and not showing much mental toughness...needs to better locate once the ball is in the air, allowing himself to get turned around often...not natural playing the ball with marginal ballskills - too many should-have-been interceptions off his hands...has some passive tendencies...misplays run angles and needs to improve his break down skills in space...had trouble holding on to a starting job the past three seasons at LSU despite given a number of opportunities - only 10 career starts...medicals need vetted after foot surgery (March 2015) prior to the LSU pro day.

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Collins probably offers the widest divergence among the prospects I've reviewed thus far, ranking from the second-best to the tenth-best overall corner in our scouting panel's eyes. Along those lines, they see him as anywhere from the 23rd best player (first-rounder, presumably) to the 72nd best (third-rounder). That's what we call a difference of opinion, and it  almost certainly boils down to production vs. potential. He clearly has an NFL body and is, as Brugler says, a "toolsy" prospect--so much so that, on raw material alone, some scouts would give him a first-round grade.

On the other hand, he wasn't particularly productive as a collegian, largely because he only started ten games. More damning is the information that recently came out that Collins failed "multiple" drug tests while at LSU. If this is indeed the case, I wouldn't touch him before round four, which is where teams typically will slot players with injury or character questions. My theory is: let some other team take a chance on him; if he ends up being a great player, good for them.

So, I'm going to put him in the fourth round on my little board (where I've also placed Jay Ajayi since news about his knee injury has come out). If the Cowboys pick him before day three, I will be gravely disappointed. If they pick him in, say round five, I'll be okay with that, understanding t as a more balanced risk/ reward proposition. Still, at that point, I'd rather they gamble on other, similarly long and much more productive (although admittedly not as athletic) options like Alex Carter or Craig Mager.

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Next up: Florida State CB P.J. WIlliams