(SportsRadio 610) - Just two games into his third season as a pro, Nico Collins, 24, is building a strong connection with rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud and this may just be the beginning of a dynamic duo under Bobby Slowik’s offense.
Collins currently ranks fifth among NFL receivers in yards (226), 10th in catches (13) and seventh in targets (20) through the first two weeks of the season.
With a 23% target rate, Collins figures to continue to be a prime option for Stroud and Slowik who made a concerted effort to showcase Collins in the pass game in the Texans' week two 31-20 loss to the Colts.
The former third-round draft choice hauled in a career high 146 yards on seven catches Sunday and that kind of production, along with his workman like approach he’s shown his coaches and teammates thus far seems to be only the tipping point for a receiver that no one expected much from this season.
“His mindset was awesome on Sunday,” Slowik said. “I think it showed up not just how he ran routes, but what he did with the ball in his hands, which is a big step for him. He ran trying to score, he ran angry, he was fast, he was running through people, and I think the team felt that.”
During training camp, it was becoming more and more clear as each day passed, that Collins was dialed in and quickly becoming a legitimate big play threat for Stroud.
Slowik was lining Collins up in a number of different ways pre snap, but it seems as through the first two games, the best fit for Collins to get the ball and make plays in this Texans version of the Shanahan scheme has been from the slot or single-receiver side.
Back in June, during OTA’s, Collins said that shortly after Slowik was hired as the Texans new offensive coordinator, the former San Francisco 49ers passing game coordinator told him to watch film of former Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones, who was running 49ers concepts.
“Yeah, Julio Jones,” Collins said. “He pulled clips from Atlanta and watched Julio run it. San Fran’s concepts, same offense, you know. Just watching guys run that route. It’s slot-work. So, for me, it’s get better in the slot. Add that to your bag, you know. Nothing to it. Just a route.”
Collins, who has noticeably sharpened his route running ability this season, caught Strouds first career touchdown pass in impressive fashion, making a leaping grab, high-pointing a perfectly placed ball by Stroud, where only the 6’4 big man could get it.
“These were little glimpses of what is to come,” Stroud said. “I think it’s just more and more success, from not only me and him, but really this whole offense. I think we’ll just keep growing.”
Stroud and Collins have become quite the duo in the early stages this season.
While Slowik’s had to altar game plans to best fit a patchwork offensive line that has struggled with keeping Stroud in a clean pocket and continuity given the myriad of injuries suffered since early in training camp, the first year coordinator has managed to free Collins up in concepts that have allowed Stroud a big target to get the ball out quickly to.
”There’s really an effort to get all three of those guys [Nico Collins, Robert Woods, Tank Dell] and Dalton [Schultz] and D.P. [Dameon Pierce] the ball every week,” Slowik said. “You kind of have a package of plays for every one of those individuals, and we try to make sure we spread that around pretty evenly through the course of a game, and then as you get later in the game when you start feeling a guy.”
Stroud is definitely feeling the connection with Collins, who has been a resource in the quick-pass game for Stroud and the Texans may have to continue to go to that well early and often until the run game can get going.
“There’s things that he can do that no one else on our team can do,” Slowik said. “Just with his frame, how big he is, how fast he is, his hands, that he’s always kind of excelled at but never necessarily understood how important the mindset aspect of it was and I think that really is registering. I think you can see it on the field every time he touches the ball.”
Through two weeks, Collins has already caught nearly one-third (13) of the passes he did in 10-games played last season (39) with Davis Mills at quarterback and is on pace to obliterate every other stat across the board that he’s put up to this point.
If this is going to be a breakout year for Collins, he’s going to have to shed the injury concerns that have caused him to miss nine-games through the first two years of his career.