With Nick Easton now likely out for the year, the Vikings need to find an answer for their left guard position quickly. There are several intriguing options: Tom Compton is a solid veteran and the likely favorite for the job, Danny Isidora is a great athlete who has reportedly improved substantially after his rookie season, 35-year-old free agent Jahri Evans is still an above-average pass protector and Luke Joeckel showed marginal improvement last year and might be worth a flyer as a reclamation project.
But perhaps the most intriguing candidate for the job is Aviante Collins.
Who is Aviante Collins?
Aviante Collins signed with the Vikings last year as an undrafted free agent out of TCU. It was a bit of a surprise when he made the final 53-man roster over guys like QB Taylor Heinicke, OG Willie Beavers or LB Edmond Robinson, but clearly the Vikings’ coaches and front office loved his upside enough to not just stash him on the practice squad, but keep him on the active roster.
When you look at Collins’ spider chart or see his athleticism on tape, it’s easy to see why:
At 6’4″ and 295 lbs, with 333/8-inch arms, Collins is slightly undersized for a left tackle, but he is a perfectly good size for guard.
And what Collins may lack in size, he more than makes up for in athleticism. Collins comes from a family of decorated track-and-field stars, and it shows: his 4.81s 40-yard dash is the third-fastest ever recorded at the combine: only Lane Johnson and Terron Armstead ran faster. It’s the same speed as Trent Williams, and faster than combine standouts like Greg Robinson, Joe Thomas, Taylor Lewan or Kolton Miller and Brian O’Neill from this previous draft. Heck, it’s faster than Kyle Rudolph.
What’s more, Collins’ 34 reps of the 225-lb bench pres is also one of the best marks of any tackle at the combine; only 11 tackles have ever put up more reps.
On the other hand, Collins’ quickness and explosiveness (which matter far more for offensive linemen) were not quite as impressive: from his Pro Day, his 8’6″ broad jump from his pro day would have ranked in the in the 51st percentile; his 4.69-second short shuttle would have ranked in the 62nd percentile; and his 7.85-second three-cone would have ranked in the 48th percentile.
But overall Collins is an exceptional athlete, and it shows on the field:
Collins Was a Monster As A Run Blocker Last Year
Take this with a huge grain of salt, but in 2017, Aviante Collins graded out at 81.7, which would have ranked sixth-best among all offensive tackles had Collins played enough snaps to qualify. Does that mean he was an elite lineman last year? No, Collins didn’t even have any traditional pass blocking snaps. But it does underscore just how dominant he was as a run blocker in his limited snaps last year.
Collins was active for the last three games of the Vikings’ season—notable especially because he beat out Danny Isidora and Cornelius Edison who were inactive for both playoff games, and now Collins is again competing with Isidora and Edison for the LG spot. He only played about 40 offensive snaps on the season, but even in that small sample size, he was dominant. Just look at how he (#76) moves in space, drives his defender and finishes with a pancake to spring Latavius Murray free on this 22-yard gain:
Granted, Collins is facing a linebacker here, but Collins’ ability to sustain this block and drive with his feet from inside the hash to outside the numbers is really impressive stuff.
Collins is a bulldozer in the run game. Once he gets his hands on you, say goodbye:
Again, this is against a linebacker, but it’s still great to see Collins’ well-placed grip, strong leg drive and steady footwork, not to mention the nastiness to want to embarrass your defender.
But Collins didn’t just dominate linebackers. Here he is pancaking a 300-pound defensive tackle to clear the key block for a playoff touchdown run:
Collins shows great footwork here on this zone run, which is encouraging because it shows he’s not just a jumbo lineman and could zone block just fine as a guard as well. And his nastiness and drive to not stop blocking until his defender is on his butt is awesome to see.
While Collins wasn’t pancaking guys on every play, he was still winning the majority of his plays—you can watch a few additional plays here.
With the caveats that it was a tiny sample size featuring a few very favorable matchups, Collins was a monster in the run game. His footwork, aim, drive and nastiness are all traits that could very well translate into a starting-caliber guard—at least in the run game.
But Can Collins Pass Block?
The crux of whether Collins could start on the line this year or if he will be limited to jumbo packages is whether Collins can protect the quarterback. And unfortunately I don’t think we know enough to be able to answer that question just yet.
Collins played less than ten pass blocking snaps last season as a sixth-lineman, which you can view here. It’s difficult to draw meaningful conclusions from so few snaps where Collins is more of a tight end than an offensive lineman, but at least Collins seems to look for work and handles some double teams against Cam Jordan.
Collins did struggle with pass protection in college (Pro Football Focus recorded 33 pressures surrendered by Collins over 566 passing snaps in his last season of college), but reports from training camp suggest Collins has improved significantly:
Aviante Collins has improved massively. Has been winning tons of reps throughout camp in one on ones and in eleven. Played both guard spots and tackle and winning against second and first team DLs
— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) August 8, 2018
Mike Zimmer specifically called out Collins’ positives in his latest press conference:
AC is very athletic. Big guy, has some power, good feet, has some nasty streak.
Right now, Collins’ ability to pass protect is a bit of a mystery. His college tape suggests he might struggle, but reports from training camp indicate he might be able to hold up against NFL competition.
Aviante Collins has seen a meteoric rise, from undrafted free agent, to making the Vikings’ 53 man roster, to having highlight-reel pancake blocks in a playoff game, to now having a great chance to earn a starting role. Whether Collins can make the most of this opportunity will depend on how much he continues to develop in camp and in the preseason.
As the Vikings kick off their first preseason game tomorrow night, keep a lookout for #76. If he can continue to standout, he might have the highest ceiling of any of Nick Easton’s potential replacements.