After the departure of Pro Bowler Darren Sharper this offseason, it wasn't a surprise that the Green Bay Packers looked to bolster themselves at safety in the 2005 NFL Draft. What was a surprise was where they went to find their talent.
With the 51st pick of the draft -- their first of two second-round selections -- the Packers acquired defensive back Nick Collins of tiny Bethune-Cookman in NCAA Division I-AA.
And just as when the Packers nabbed California quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the first round with the 24th overall selection, GM Ted Thompson said Collins' selection was due to his being the best player available when the Packers came on the clock.
"He's a marvelous athlete that our coaches got to know very well," Thompson said. "I think you always look at their background and the level of competition that the players come from, but he performed well in the combine against guys from Michigan and Ohio State. He actually did better than a lot of those players."
What the Packers like most about Collins is his versatility. Although he will start by learning one of the safety positions, Collins has the ability to play anywhere in the backfield, Thompson said.
Standing 5-foot-11 and weighing 206 pounds, Collins described himself as an aggressive player who loves to hit. As a senior at Bethune-Cookman, he had 55 tackles to go with six interceptions.
"He's an excellent man-to-man cover player," head coach Mike Sherman said. "He could actually play corner, he could play in the dime package. He has excellent skills in coverage. What separates him from the other safeties is he's also packed pretty solid and lays a heavy punch on the offender."
Collins' toughness could come in handy. If there's anything harder than the head-on collision between a safety and a running back, it might be the jump from Division I-AA to the NFL.
Thompson and Sherman both admit that Collins will have a lot of work to do in the classroom to learn new coordinator Jim Bates' system. But once he does, the Packers have a player they think can contribute this season.
"From a physical standpoint, I think he'll be okay," Sherman said. "Mentally there will be some challenges, but our staff is confident they can teach him our scheme and get him on the field."