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Green Bay Packers Nick Collins

Nick Collins


Nick Collins

Inducted: 2016

Safety: 2005-11

Height: 5-11; Weight: 207

College: Bethune-Cookman, 2002-04


  • Pro Bowl Selection (played since 1950): 2008, '09, '10

When it came time for the Packers to exercise their second-round pick, the 51st overall, in the 2005 NFL Draft, the entire scouting world except for general manager Ted Thompson seemed to think it would be a reach to select Nick Collins that early.

For starters, Collins had played at Bethune-Cookman University, an NCAA Division I-AA school of less than 3,000 students, with what was hardly a powerhouse football program. Aside from that, there was uncertainty in the eyes of many talent evaluators about where Collins would play – cornerback or safety – and whether he might be a tweener who wouldn't excel at either position.

Brian Gutekunst, the Packers' southeast area scout, was thinking, "I like him, but second round?" After all, the historically black college in Daytona Beach, Fla., where Collins played, had never produced a first-round selection other than a supplemental choice and had only three second-rounders taken in the top 50 in the previous 40 drafts. Jim Bates, the Packers' new defensive coordinator, lobbied instead for Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo linebacker Jordan Beck, who would last until the third round and last only two seasons in the NFL without ever starting a game. Even after Thompson had selected Collins, then Packers head coach Mike Sherman called the choice "a roll of the dice."

Talk about proving the skeptics wrong.

In his first season., Collins started 16 games, played every snap at free safety and was chosen to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team. All the things about him that Thompson found enticing had panned out. Having run the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds at the NFL Combine, Collins showed rare range for a safety while chasing down runners and receivers. Having played linebacker as a sophomore in college, he also proved to be a sure, physical tackler, a necessity at his position. Additionally, Collins squelched concerns about his small-school background by being assignment sure.

As a result, he quickly earned the respect of his teammates and others.

"I played with Brian Dawkins. I played with John Lynch. I think the world of the dude," said veteran cornerback Al Harris, comparing Collins to two safeties who have since been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Mike McCarthy, Thompson's choice to succeed Sherman as Packers head coach in 2006, was so impressed when he broke down the tape of his new team, he singled out Collins like few, if any, others. "Nick Collins, to me, he jumped right off the film," McCarthy said before his first season.

By the end of training camp in '06, veteran teammates also were predicting Collins would enjoy a breakout season. One of them was recently acquired veteran safety Marquand Manuel, who would get hired for his first NFL coaching post not long after he left the game as a player. He said Collins' skills couldn't have been more eye-popping throughout the summer. "It's just not speed," Manuel said shortly before the season opener. "You can have speed, but it's being an athlete. That's the difference with him."

As a rookie, Collins had finished fourth on the Packers with 96 tackles, third in passes broken up with nine and allowed only two touchdowns in coverage, all impressive numbers. The only downside to his game was his missed opportunities when it came to interceptions. He had just one for no return.

In Collins' second year, he started flashing his potential as a playmaker and intercepted three passes, including one he returned 55 yards for a touchdown. While he enjoyed another solid season in 2007, Collins, again, fell short when it came to making big plays, failing to intercept a single pass.

That all changed in 2008. Collins intercepted seven for a league-high 295 yards on returns and also a league-high three touchdowns. To top it all off, he was named to the first of three straight Pro Bowls.

From 2008 through 2010, Collins intercepted 17 passes and was named after each season to the second team on the Associated Press All-Pro team. His three Pro Bowl selections by the age of 27 were two more than either Willie Wood or LeRoy Butler, two of the Packers' three Pro Football Hall of Fame safeties, had earned at the same age. Bobby Dillon, the Packers' other Hall of Fame safety, also was 27 when he was selected to his third Pro Bowl.

Collins climaxed those three seasons with the game-sealing interception in the regular-season finale vs. Chicago to get the Packers into the playoffs, and with one of the biggest defensive plays in Packers history: a 37-yard interception return for their second touchdown of the first quarter in their victory over Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV.

Then abruptly, two games into the 2011 season, Collins' career was ended at age 28 when he injured his neck in a game at Carolina and subsequently underwent single fusion surgery.

"I remember sitting in the Carolina Panthers' locker room when Nick got hurt down there," McCarthy said a decade later. "You always hold your breath any time there's an injury to the vertebrae and the neck, but we didn't realize how serious it was. The doc brought the X-rays right into the head coach's locker room, and Ted and I are sitting there reading the X-ray. We were both sick to our stomach. And Ted made the comment: 'This guy was on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.'"

Unwilling to risk further injury to Collins, the Packers released him in April 2012. During his six seasons plus two games in 2011, Collins started all 95 that he played in. He also started all seven postseason games in which he appeared, including Super Bowl XLV. His final regular-season stats included 21 interceptions and four fumble recoveries.

Given name Nicholas Cardell Collins. Born Aug. 16, 1983.

-Cliff Christl