LSU Tigers LT La’el Collins is one of the most talented offensive linemen in the country, and will likely be selected relatively early in the 2014 NFL Draft, assuming the talented junior will declare early as many expect. He was a five-star recruit in the heralded 2011 Tigers recruiting class that featured the likes of Odell Beckham, Anthony Johnson, Jarvis Landry and Zach Mettenberger; and like the others, Collins has played to his lofty billing.
His junior season has gone as planned, with him playing well and staying healthy. But, the season isn’t over yet, and he’s still got at least one big test left this week against the Arkansas Razorbacks.
No, the season hasn’t gone the way the Razorbacks had wanted under first-year coach Bret Bielema as they’re in the midst of an eight-game losing streak, but that’s not to say they don’t have any talent (remember, this is still an SEC roster that was a top-10 team two years ago) especially along the defensive line, which is where Collins could have his hands full.
Collins will be going head-to-head with defensive ends Chris Smith and Trey Flowers, two of the better pass rushers in the SEC. Smith is second in the SEC this year with 8.5 sacks and is coming off a 2012 season that saw him tally 9.5. Flowers has racked up four sacks after putting up six last year. I don’t care how badly the rest of the Razorbacks team has played — you have to game plan for these two guys.
Collins will have a clear advantage in terms of size. The tackle is 6-foot 5, 315 pounds while Smith is 6-foot-3, 264 pounds and Flowers is 6-foot 4, 260 pounds. But, he won’t have an advantage in the department of speed and explosiveness, which are the greatest attributes of the Razorbacks’ ends.
As a whole, I expect Collins to win this day. For one, he does a heck of a lot better going against speed rushers than against power rushers (look at the game tape against Alabama’s Adrian Hubbard for an example). Also, both Smith and Flowers have struggled to put consistent pressure on QBs in big-time SEC matchups. 8.5 of the 12.5 combined sacks between Smith and Flowers this season have come against the likes of Louisiana-Lafayette, Samford, Southern Miss and Rutgers.
Collins has the most at stake between the three players as he’s considered a high second-round prospect at this point, while Smith is considered a late-second, early-third prospect and Flowers a third-day prospect. Smith and Flowers have the most to gain, however. If they can consistently rattle Mettenberger and force the Tigers to help him with a tight end, their stock would certainly improve.
One way or another, even if the score isn’t close, the battle in the trenches between Collins and the Arkansas defensive ends should be an exciting matchup of future NFL players.