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Nico Collins and The Randy Moss Effect

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Nico Collins has been hauling in big catches this season and drawing a lot of attention from opposing defenses.

Iowa v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines beat the Maryland Terrapins 38-7 on Saturday, improving to 7-2 on the season. During the game, quarterback Shea Patterson hit wide receiver Nico Collins deep for a 51 yard gain.

The long reception put Michigan within striking distance of the end zone, and they would score a touchdown two plays later.

Collins has been the biggest vertical threat for Michigan this season, in stature and in terms of production.

“He has a dynamic element to our offense where you have to pay attention to every snap and most of the time when he is one on one, he is going to go up and get it so I think he draws a lot of attention to himself,” Shea Patterson said after the game.

Whether it’s hauling in a 50-50 ball or drawing a pass interference penalty, good things can happen when the ball is sent Collins’ way. Even when Collins isn’t receiving the ball himself, his presence leads to double teams.

“If there’s two guys covering one, now they’re playing with nine. That’s big. Randy Moss had that kind of effect,” Jim Harbaugh said earlier in the week about Notre Dame doubling Collins. Harbaugh would know, he played against Moss and was his coach during the 2012 season when the San Francisco 49ers went to the Super Bowl.

Through nine games this season, Collins has 22 receptions for 439 yards and 3 touchdowns. The 6-foot-4 target is averaging 19.95 yards per reception and has receptions of 28-plus yards in 7 of 9 games this year.

Moss’ 1997 season at Marshall provided highlight reel grabs and eye-popping numbers, hauling in 96 receptions for 1,820 yards with 26 touchdowns. As great as those numbers are, Moss’ yards per reception average was eerily similar to what Collins has this season. In ‘97, Moss’ average was 19.0, and Collins’ is 19.95 in ‘19.

While Collins won’t get peppered with targets like Moss did two decades ago, his production to this point warrants trust from Patterson and targets thrown his direction when they present themselves.

“That’s big. You know when a receiver draws attention too, he draws double coverage a lot. That happened last week and some today,” Harbaugh said. “But you recognize that and it helps your running game, too. Because now our receivers are occupying two defenders. But he’s got a knack for it. He’s as good as I’ve seen in a long time with going up and then making the contestant catch it at its highest point.”

Collins has some of the main attributes that make up a good pass catcher. He’s tough and physical, he’s tall and fast, he’s inclined to catch with his strong hands and not let the ball hit his body. Collins aims to high point the football and win those 50-50 balls. “Everytime, a 50-50 ball, you compete for it. And half of the time, kinda bigger than the defensive back so I just go up and make the play,” Collins said Saturday.

Collins passes the eye-test when it comes to whether Michigan should continue to push the ball deep down the field in his direction. If there’s a one-on-one situation between Collins and a defender, he’s earned more targets being sent his way, whether it’s a 50-50 ball in the end-zone or a deep pass down the field. If a defense is leaving itself open to getting punched in the face, take the shot to Collins. Expect to see that more during the final stretch of the season.

As Harbaugh noted, even when Collins isn’t catching passes, his presence is felt and he impacts how a defense goes about attacking Michigan’s offense. And when that happens, there’s a Randy Moss type of effect going on. Helping out the run game, drawing double teams, drawing pass interference penalties against the defense, being a reliable red zone target, hauling in 50-50 balls on deep patterns, Moss was able to do all those things and now Collins is doing the same at the collegiate level.

The more targets Collins receives, the more the nation will see that he is truly an elite receiver that could be a top draft pick when he decides to turn pro.