The Packers needed defensive help, no question about it. After the Packers used their initial second-rounder on Collins, the next dozen picks included DBs from Clemson, Illinois and Florida State. Had Green Bay likewise culled defensive help from NFL's familiar proving grounds, Project Defensive Backfield would be off to a less mysterious start.
A successful combine performance, in which Collins outplayed the big-school competition, swayed the Packers in his favor.
Now what does Collins have to do during training camp and pre-season to prove the Packers right?
First, he must come through on the promise of versatility. Collins' ability to play anywhere in the defensive backfield has been the mantra of coach Mike Sherman and GM Ted Thompson when quizzed about the surprising pick. Sherman has called Collins an excellent man-to-man cover player who could actually play corner. If Collins consistently keeps pace with the Packers' speedy receivers in camp drills, the team's search for a replacement for Darren Sharper will get a needed boost.
Next, Collins will get to demonstrate his advertised agressive tackling. While the Pack touts Collins' versatility, the rookie's own calling card is his toughness. The 5-11, 206-pound Collins says he loves to hit. So far, he loves to hit at the Div. I-AA and junior college levels. Collins' former BCC teammate Rashean Mathis was a second-round pick of the Jaguars in 2003 and is now a starter, so there's recent proof that it can be done. But the transition from Div. I-AA will be even more dramatic than the usually rookie shock. The likes of Savannah State and Arkansas Pine-Bluff are going to be long forgotten by the time the Chargers hit town for the preseason opener seven weeks from now. Collins will get the opportunity to prove that his tackling ability translates to the big time.
Drill by drill and play by play, Green Bay coaches will have a tangible measure of Collins in those two departments.
The next challenge for the rookie isn't as easy to gauge. Collins' ability to leap from tiny Bethune-Cookman to the NFL stage will hinge on proving that he can handle the mental and well as physical demands. He'll find himself under the magnifying glass as he learns new coordinator Jim Bates' system, due to a poor performance on the Wunderlich test and an academic record that curtailed his collegiate career early on.
Bethune-Cookman coach Alvin Wyatt Sr. offers assurance that Collins has it together.
"Nick is a special kid and we could tell that the moment he hit campus," Wyatt said on the college's athletic department web site. "Nick was a team player, and he wanted to do whatever he could to help the team. This just shows what we're doing in our program .. we're taking guys who are borderline and developing them, which shows that our which shows that our work ethic is paying off."
Editor's note: Laura Veras Marran grew up in Green Bay, Wis., and is a longtime sportswriter. Her column will appear regularly on PackerReport.com.