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NFL draft preview: Virginia DT Nate Collins

After four years playing in the 3-4 defense, Nate Collins enters the weekend of the NFL draft as a promising prospect at a different position: defensive tackle in the 4-3 defensive alignment.

When viewed as a prospect in the 4-3 defense, Collins could emerge as a mid- to late-round steal. Collins has received interest from a variety of NFL teams, including the New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears. Each utilizes a 4-3 defense, in which the the 6-foot-2, 290-pound Collins is ideally suited to play.

"I feel like I was very underrated at the end of season," Collins said this week. "We didn’t get that good of exposure. But I did really well at the all-star game and with the pass rush competitions. I kind of got a little buzz about me."

Of all the draft-eligible division I-A defensive tackles, only Ndamukong Suh's 82 tackles topped Collins's 78 tackles, and Suh, a sure-fire top five pick, played in two more games. Collins played defensive end in the 3-4 this season, but he had played nose tackle in the past. He was also a key leader and popular player on the Cavaliers' roster.

"I can certainly see that when you survey the league, those players who play nose tackle, they are amongst the bigger physical specimens in the NFL," former Virginia Coach Al Groh said. "That certainly won't be the position you'd like at Nate with. And with the defensive ends, it's somewhat the same. ...I can understand why, for NFL purposes, teams who play a one-gap system and can put him on half the player, which a guy not being a monster size. In the general population, Nate would stand out as a big man. In the NFL world, he's not an overwhelmingly big man. Sometimes, the one-gap system in the NFL will give a player like Nate a big chance, while in college football, the size disparity wasn't there so it worked out just fine for him."

Collins has been questioned about his relative lack of height, although he has used his height for leverage and has been productive in result to a 6-2 frame -- not despite of the frame. Collins was named first-team all-ACC last season.

Another advantage in the eyes of the NFL team is that Collins was a four-year senior and thus has another year of development. Groh said that players who have been true seniors in the past from Virginia have been lauded for "greater potential upside" and allows a player to project in the future.

Since the season concluded, Collins cut his body fat and has tried to improve the measurables to fit what NFL teams seek. But he is confident in what is available on film, and described his emotions as "anxious" entering the weekend when he will learn his NFL future.

"With my talent level, when I'm put into an NFL system," Collins said, "I feel like I can develop."

By Zach Berman  |  April 22, 2010; 11:50 AM ET
 
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