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Projecting L.J. Collier in 2020 and beyond

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NFL: NOV 24 Seahawks at Eagles Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Any engaged Seahawks fan probably knows too much about LJ Collier by now. Comparisons, projections, scouting reports, tape analysis, wish casting, doom casting, as a subject of analysis and discussion, any NFL team’s first-round pick is liable to be strip mined before they play a single professional snap. As a bit of a prolix bastard, I’ll try to keep this succinct and hopefully novel in its content.

The in-house comparison for Collier is Michael Bennett. Of that there is no doubt. Another comparison is perhaps more accurate: Jonathan Babineaux.

Bennett and Babineaux were late bloomers. They arrived in the league nearing their mid-20s. They did not contribute significantly until their third seasons. Seahawks fans would be much happier if Collier contributed in his second season, but a third-season leap would also be pretty cool. We’re all just hoping he doesn’t bust, right?

Okay now let’s analyze a few snaps.

2ND & 5 AT SEA 33(02:08)

(2:08) C.McCaffrey right end to SEA 29 for 4 yards (A.King; A.Woods). SEA-A.Woods was injured during the play.

His performance in this play is more representative of his ability than the average play because Carolina targets him.

Here’s the formation.

And here is the angle from behind the Seahawks defensive line.

As the sizable gap between Collier (#95) and Poona Ford (#97) indicates, Collier shoulders a lot of responsibility here. Carolina’s 82 is blocking tight end Chris Manhertz. He’s listed at 6’6” 255.

Collier’s a little slow off the snap.

Manhertz is able to down block him and set the edge.

Indeed Collier looks like he’s doing the Joey Hunt. Overpowered, and having already lost leverage and position, he’s just holding on hoping to fail no further. When!

Well it’s hard to get a good screen cap of the play, but I’ll describe it. Collier is losing ground to Manhertz but he’s slowly winning the battle of hand fighting. This might not matter because Pro Bowl right guard Trai Turner is squaring to double Collier, and more or less finish him off.

Instead Collier rallies in impressive fashion.

That’s him in the process of pancaking Manhertz. Now maybe Manhurtz trips on Turner’s legs. That happens a lot, and the timing is right. Whatever the cause, Collier is able to free himself, drop Manhertz, nullify Turner and help close Christian McCaffrey’s rush lane.

Does this mean that Collier lacks sand in his pants? Well ...

1ST & 10 AT CAR 8(06:11)

(6:11) C.McCaffrey left tackle to CAR 5 for -3 yards (B.Wagner; C.Barton).

With a good jump he looks sturdy enough.

Actually, Collier is once again slow off the snap, but Carolina right tackle Taylor Moton (#72) is so much damn slower. I guess I should say with an equal or advantageous get off, Collier looks like he anchors well enough. Let’s zoom in on his performance against Carolina’s promising right tackle.

Collier stays on Moton’s outside shoulder and holds his ground. While he gets no credit for the tackle, he deserves plenty of credit for stuffing this run.

Collier sets the edge 3 and eventually 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage, while consistently staying free from his blocker. That’s what you want from your big end.

The above, in slightly doper form.

And for the true aficionado of dope line play.

Collier benefits greatly from Moton’s slow jump, but if he can correct his own slow jump, it’s reasonable to think he will be able to perform likewise against other offensive tackles. He looks small but he doesn’t lack power.

On the next play Collier records a hurry for which he received no credit. It’s a good looking play, the one I most remembered him from, and the reason I decided to write this.

Here he’s playing opposite Panthers left tackle Dennis Daley. Daley was a rookie in 2019. He has since been replaced by Russell Okung. That’s about all you need to know. But if you’re curious: Daley accounted for nine sacks allowed, and according to Football Outsiders’ game charting, he had 21 blown blocks as a pass protector. Germain Ifedi had 18 in a little under twice as many snaps. yeah

Anyway, this is a hopeful post, and I don’t think what we see here is solely Daley screwing up. Collier is able to separate from Daley twice.

Here ...

and a second later, here.

That’s impressive separation, scrub-busting or not. But Collier’s close is entirely too slow to do much with this other than force a very valuable outlet pass to McCaffrey. Which he turns into an 18-yard gain.

What does this all mean?

I think we can safely project what Collier can do, what he can become, what he needs to achieve that level of performance, and when we can reasonably expect it.

Collier is very good at separating from a single block. He knows where the play is going, and he’s steady and able when fighting through trash. Collier could easily be a + run defender at big end in 2020.

If he can consistently separate against even high level blockers, he has a chance to be an excellent run defender excelling at splitting double teams, keeping his second level blockers clean, disrupting run blocking and making quite a few valuable run tackles of his own.

He’s a complementary pass rusher and may always be a complementary pass rusher. He does not look very sudden, and while his 40 time was comparable to Bennett and Babineaux, his 10-yard split was significantly worse: 1.62, 1.70 and 1.75 respectively. Think about how he had to separate twice from Daley. That’s because, even free of his blocker, he doesn’t have the burst to really capitalize on the space he’s created. He’ll need to keep his pass rushes short and tidy, because he’s not going to loop around Lawrence Taylor-style unless the quarterback holds the ball for eight seconds.

He needs to consistently get a good jump off the line of scrimmage. Good anticipation will allow him to steal back a few hundredths of a second leading to more won blocks, and a greater ability to work in the backfield. If he can improve in 2020, he’s likely a starter. If he’s ever able to get good at this, he could be a good starter.

It’s not super likely he achieves more than that. He doesn’t look as nimble or as coordinated as Bennett, and I do not think he will ever be able to turn his ability to separate into an ability to pounce on the quarterback. He’s more of a 3-5 sacks a season player who also helps to disrupt and contract the pocket, facilitating other pass rushers.

I do not think Collier will bust. He will contribute something in 2020 and beyond. And if you’re thinking championship, and I for one am always thinking championship, Collier could be the kind of inexpensive, young and hungry role player who’s never a star but never a liability either. The kind of guy you often see doing good work in another player’s highlight. The kind of guy whose tackle for a loss of two to put the opposing offense in 3rd and 7 directly precedes a pick six. The kind of guy phony scouting loathes, casual fans can’t recognize, and smart fans love.