At 6-foot-2 and 285 pounds, City College of San Francisco offensive lineman A.J. McCollum is similar to outgoing Arizona State starting center Nick Kelly not only in terms of size and stature, but both men came to the Sun Devils from the Northern California junior college ranks. The No. 96 overall recruit in the JUCO Scout100, McCollum was the starting center and first-team all-conference selection for a 12-1 CCSF team that won a state championship last weekend.
McCollum isn't the rangiest or most athletic of players but what unquestionably jumps out about him on film is the competitive edge he plays with and his passion for the game. That shouldn't be underestimated from a value standpoint and ASU's probably not had enough of it from players over the years, in general. It's really an innate personal characteristic more than something that is taught or fostered among offensive linemen.
When he arrived at ASU as a walk-on in the mid-2000s, Paul Fanaika wasn't in good shape nor athletic. But as a big framed kid, Fanaika also was the nastiest of ASU's offensive linemen and over the course of a career built himself into a quality offensive guard. Fanaika just finished his seventh year in the NFL.
Partly because he's not tall and also because he has very good balance and leverage, McCollum is able to get under players more and use his strength in a very functional way. That, plus his nasty disposition leads to a lot of power finishes of blocks well outside of the initial point of engagement, and often pancakes. He runs his feet extremely well through engagement, which a lot of players struggle with early on or throughout their college careers, and plays through the whistle with great consistency and tenacity.
A big part of McCollum's success is how well he locates his hands and how quickly he gets his hands ready to take advantage of proper physical positioning for blocks. Teams are often able to take advantage of smaller centers with A-gap pops by linebackers quickly upon the snap and that's an issue worth watching as McCollum moves up a level but he's good at getting from snap to block with his hand quickness and initial footwork.
McCollum has pretty functional balance and composure as a run blocker though at times he gets overzealous with his punch and staying within his framework. Strength won't be a major issue but length and overall athletic range are a bit limiting in terms of his overall ceiling. McCollum had been committed to Cal before flipping to ASU late in the process, and he's certainly a Pac-12 prospect who can be successful at this level, at least as a player with two-year starting mid-tier Pac-12 potential.
In the case of McCollum, he'll be battling ASU senior-to-be Stephon McCray to replace current senior Nick Kelly as the team's starting center. There's also the possibility ASU coaches could elect to play McCollum at center and McCray at right guard. It's just one of the examples of how this added versatility should help with their task of putting the best five players on the field together.
Todd Graham on McCollum: “A.J. is a guy that reminds me so much of (senior ASU center) Nick Kelly, it’s unbelievable. A really smart player, a great center, especially for the things that we do and how we’re able to run a play-action, pass-offense so we’re excited about him and him coming in here and being a guy that’s going to compete.