Monthly Archives: March 2015

Despite injury, Jalen Collins could be first-rounder

BATON ROUGE, La. — Jalen Collins was shocked to learn at the NFL scouting combine that he had a fractured right foot.

For his sake, thankfully the combine medical staff still allowed Collins to participate, and he delivered one of the most impressive performances of any cornerback at the event despite the injury.

The former LSU cornerback, whom some draft analysts project as a first-round pick, recently underwent surgery to repair an incomplete Jones fracture in his foot. It prevented him from participating in LSU’s pro day on Friday, but should only sideline him for about three more weeks.

“When I first found out, I was kind of disappointed because I didn’t think I was going to be able to work out at the combine,” Collins said. “When my name wasn’t on the list of people that had to sit out, I was excited to hear that.

“Just after the combine workouts I just went into it [thinking] this is something that I have to get done — a little speed bump, but it shouldn’t be too hard to come back from.”

The foot surgery is about the only disappointing aspect of the three months since Collins declared for the draft. He started seven games last season as a junior and just 10 in his entire college career, but Collins’ combination of ideal size (6-foot-2, 198 pounds) and raw tools helped him vault up the list of prospects at his position.

Not bad for a guy who was advised to stay in college when he submitted his name to the NFL underclassman advisory board to be evaluated as a possible draft entrant. Undaunted, Collins had faith in his own abilities. Those abilities have him sitting 24th on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s Big Board and ranking as Kiper’s No. 3 cornerback.

“I was honestly just hoping for the best,” Collins said of his decision to enter the draft. “Everybody wants to be in the first round, obviously, but coming in, I really didn’t have any prior expectations. I was just going to do what I could do and hope for the best.”

Following his combine performance, where he ran a 4.48-second time in the 40-yard dash and finished among the top cornerbacks in several other drills while performing well during positional exercises, Collins has reason for optimism.

Collins said he already has interviews lined up with nine or 10 NFL clubs, starting with the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars next week. Once his foot heals, he will surely have several more individual workouts with interested suitors ahead of the April 30 draft.

“It really has [been a whirlwind],” Collins said. “Leading up to the combine and just kind of working out, not really having any idea what would happen, just, ‘I’m going to work hard, do what I can.’ And then after the combine, it’s like, ‘Wow, this is really happening.’ ”

While Collins was unable to participate on Friday, 22 former LSU players were able to compete in front of approximately 100 scouts and coaches representing every NFL club.

Offensive tackle La’el Collins — another possible first-round pick — was among them, although he stood on the numbers he posted at the combine and participated only in positional drills alongside former teammates Elliott Porter, Fehoko Fanaika and Evan Washington.

Linebacker Kwon Alexander, whose 4.55 time in the 40 was among the fastest for linebackers at the combine, participated only in the shuttle run and positional drills. Defensive end Danielle Hunter did all of the events and drills on Friday except the 40 — he ran the fastest time of any defensive lineman at the combine at 4.57 — and the bench press after completing 25 reps at the combine.

“I felt great [at the combine],” said Hunter, who injured himself at the combine while running his second 40. “I had a little hamstring injury and I didn’t want to do all the drills, so I just waited until pro day to do most of the drills.”

But Hunter was pleased with his showing on Friday, when he posted the best numbers out of all of the day’s participants in the 20-yard shuttle run (4.31 seconds), three-cone drill (6.95 seconds), broad jump (10 feet, 10.5 inches) and vertical jump (36.5 inches). ESPN Scouts Inc.’s No. 77 overall prospect and Kiper’s No. 9 defensive end, Hunter participated in positional drills at both end and linebacker.

“I got the times I needed,” Hunter said. “I showed what I can show in my drills. My hips, they could be a little better.”

The aforementioned foursome — Jalen Collins, La’el Collins, Alexander and Hunter — has already solidified positions as LSU’s top draft prospects, but several other Tigers needed strong performances on Friday in order to help themselves.

Two such players were running backs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard. Magee did not run the 40 at the combine after injuring his hamstring at a postseason all-star game, and Hilliard probably wished he hadn’t run in Indianapolis after posting a 4.83. He fared much better on Friday, posting a 4.6, while Magee ran a 4.56.

“I heard a couple different things. I heard 4.6 and I heard 4.5, but I’m glad with either one,” Hilliard said. “I just wanted to improve here from the combine and that’s what I came out here and did.”

Receiver Quantavius Leslie posted the fastest 40 time of the day (4.45), while Porter completed the most bench press reps (34). For a full list of results, see the pro day page on LSU’s official athletics site here.

Kenny Britt’s return to Rams best for both sides

EARTH CITY, Mo. — From the moment wide receiver Kenny Britt arrived in St. Louis on a one-year “prove it” deal in 2014, he made it clear that he needed a fresh start with a familiar face.

The St. Louis Rams offered Britt just that with a chance to begin anew somewhere other than Tennessee but with a trusted confidant in Rams coach Jeff Fisher. Fisher was the coach who drafted Britt in 2009 and the only coach with whom Britt had enjoyed any NFL success.

Removed from the only NFL home he’d ever known but also the place where he’d struggled with injuries and off the field issues, Britt made the most of his new opportunity. About as much as a wide receiver playing for this version of the Rams could, Britt “proved it.”

As a reward for proving that he could be a productive player on the field and a solid citizen and leader off of it, Britt received another contract with the Rams on Friday night. This time, Britt got two years instead of one and though the financials weren’t yet clear, it’s safe to assume they far exceed the $1 million base salary he got a year ago.

That Britt is back with the Rams should come as no surprise. He was the team’s most productive receiver last year with 48 catches for 748 yards and three touchdowns. The yardage production made Britt the first Rams pass-catcher since Torry Holt in 2008 to even break the 700-yard barrier.

Make no mistake, 700 yards isn’t much of a milestone for a receiver but in these parts, that represents progress.

In the process, Britt also proved a more valuable team leader than many could have imagined. He was also instrumental in the early-season flash of progress by fellow receiver Brian Quick, who credited Britt with showing him how to use his bigger frame to his advantage.

“He’s that kind of player,” Quick said near the end of the season. “That’s why he’s here. Just looking at him shows that I can do the same thing.”

Keeping Britt should also allow the Rams to focus their resources on other areas, namely the offensive line. While many would still like to see them add a top receiver in the draft — and they still might — that want would have become a need without Britt’s return.

From Britt’s perspective, he never had much of a desire to detach from Fisher so long as the offers he got on the free-agent market came in about the same. Fisher is known for how he manages his players and allowed Britt days off near the end of the season to help keep him healthy.

Britt’s healthiest and most productive years have come under Fisher’s guidance. In three seasons with Fisher as his head coach, Britt averaged 741.3 yards, 44 receptions and five touchdowns while missing just four of a possible 48 games. In three seasons without Fisher as his head coach, Britt averaged 324.7 yards, 24.3 catches and 2.3 touchdowns while missing 19 of a possible 48 games.

The two sides began negotiating as far back as January and though it carried into the first few days of free agency, it always seemed like nothing more than a matter of time for an agreement to be struck.

“It’s always about how you fit and how you feel,” Britt said in December. “I was never a person that would go out there and play the game for money. I go out there and play the game for the guys that line up next to me and the guy that is in there each and every day going to work for guys like Jeff Fisher and the coaching staff. That’s somebody I want to go win a ring with because he deserves it and I want to be one of the guys that helps.”

With a deal now done, Britt will get his chance.

Jets GM Mike Maccagnan has aggressive plan that includes Darrelle Revis

Mike Maccagnan has been on the job for about a minute, and we already know this about him: He’s not gun-shy.

And another thing: He wants to win now.

On Friday, the New York Jets’ general manager pulled off a low-risk trade for a talented, yet volatile wide receiver — Brandon Marshall. Sound familiar? Maccagnan’s predecessor, John Idzik, made a similar deal last October for Percy Harvin, but it was a too-little, too-late move born of desperation.

Marshall is a less expensive, more talented version of Harvin, but he’s also four years older. He’ll be 31 in a couple of weeks, and it’s certainly fair to wonder why a rebuilding team — with a big question at quarterback, no less — is willing to pay $7.7 million this year for a receiver on the wrong side of 30.

Why? Because Maccagnan apparently isn’t content to ride out his honeymoon in the far-right lane. He’s in the passing lane, trying to make up ground in the AFC East. It’s why he re-signed linebacker David Harris, hardly a young pup at 31, for a whopping $15 million in guarantees. It’s why he’ll go into free agency Tuesday determined to pursue a certain almost-30 cornerback who has his own Island address.

Yes, they’re hot for Darrelle Revis, and we could see the most dramatic Jets-New England Patriots tug-of-war since the Curtis Martin saga in 1998 — assuming Revis doesn’t re-up with the champs before Tuesday. The smart money says he doesn’t, forcing the Patriots to release him to avoid a prohibitive $20-million option. The border war is about to escalate once again.

The Marshall trade took onions because we all know he can be everything from a diva (being kind) to a major headache, especially for his quarterbacks. On his worst days, he can make Santonio Holmes seem like a boy scout. In Chicago, Marshall clashed with Jay Cutler, criticizing him publicly toward the end of last season. That came after Cutler reportedly didn’t bother to visit Marshall in the hospital after he suffered rib and lung injuries.

Nice chemistry, huh? A player with Marshall’s talent doesn’t get traded three times unless there are some serious issues above the shoulders. He’s an immensely talented “me” guy, but the beauty of the trade is the Jets can cut bait after a year with no salary-cap ramifications. All it cost them was a fifth-round draft pick.

Clearly, Maccagnan is leaning on new coach Todd Bowles, because Bowles is the Marshall expert at One Jets Drive. He and Marshall spent two seasons together with the Miami Dolphins, 2010 and 2011, so we have to assume Bowles knows the good, the bad and the ugly. Maybe he can find a way to keep him in line. Marshall also will have his former Dolphins’ position coach, Karl Dorrell, so he’ll be surrounded by familiar faces. That should help. The coach-player dynamic is the key to the entire trade.

“The true test will be when adversity strikes, considering the quarterback [situation],” said an AFC personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“He’s a talented guy who has been traded to three teams and never finished a contract,” the executive said of Marshall. “All that said, he’s better than what the Jets had. But it’s all the other stuff that will come with it and will test a new regime. The fact that the quarterback situation is unsettled, it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.”

Ah, yes, the quarterback situation. Bad play at quarterback can ruin everything. The most aggressive GM in the league can’t create a franchise quarterback out of thin air, so it looks like Maccagnan will be stuck with Geno Smith or a second-rate veteran from the free-agent market. Maybe he’s banking on an improved supporting cast helping Smith grow as a player. The rising tide lifts all boats, as the saying goes, but not if one of the boats has a leak.

For now, Marshall gives the Jets a legitimate No. 1 receiver. His numbers declined last season because of injuries, but he was the NFL’s second-leading receiver in catches and yards from 2007 to 2013. Eric Decker, miscast last season as a No. 1, will feel more comfortable as No. 2 and will see less coverage. Harvin probably will be released, saving them $10.5 million on this year’s cap.

The Jets’ passing offense was 32nd last season, and they just added a five-time Pro Bowl receiver. They got older, but they got better. Unlike his predecessor, Maccagnan isn’t conceding today for tomorrow.