After a strong combine, La'El Collins hopes to become the first offensive lineman from LSU to be taken in the first round in 17 years.
The offensive line is often thought of as the building blocks of a football team's offense.
As made evident by the Washington Redskins famed "Hogs" front five of the 1980s and early 90s, a strong offensive line can lead any team to success as the franchise won all three of its Super Bowls in that era.
Along that front, one of the most highly scrutinized positions is that of left tackle. With players like Joe Jacoby, Chris Samuels and, currently, Trent Williams anchoring the line, Washington has had history of quality quarterback protectors.
But for other teams, finding a quality left tackle like that is a difficult task. One 2015 prospect that experts view as a possible solution, though, is LSU's La'El Collins, who could become the first offensive lineman out of LSU to be drafted in the first round in 17 years.
Check out these photos of La'el Collins, a big and powerful offensive lineman from LSU.
"To go in the first round would definitely be a dream come true," Collins told reporters at his NFL Scouting Combine press conference. "We've had a lot of guys go in the first round, but at the offensive line position, there haven't been too many of them."
After his junior season, Collins had the opportunity to declare for the draft, but opted to return to the Tigers. With three years of starting experience under his belt, including two at left tackle, Collins is confident that his time at LSU was well spent.
"Everything we do at LSU prepares you for this, and that's why I'm extremely confident," Collins said. "I stepped up to the plate and contributed. Seeing guys make big impacts from the team, I'm just ready to be the next guy."
Collins played in 45 career games – with 38 starts – for the Tigers and earned the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the top offensive lineman in the SEC as voted on by the coaches. The Baton Rouge-native was a two-time All-SEC selection and earned Second Team All-America honors as a senior.
In the SEC, Collins faced his fair share of pass-rushing NFL prospects, including Alvin Dupree (Kentucky), Dante Fowler Jr. (Florida) and Preston Smith (Mississippi St.), all of whom are expected to be selected within the first three rounds of this year's draft.
The opportunity to prepare for and play against talent like that, Collins says, has made him a better all-around player.
"The competition in the SEC every week is extremely high. You're always facing guys you have to be prepared for, because if you don't, they'll get you," he said. "So being able to look at [Fowler Jr.] and break down film on him, understanding his moves and what he likes to do and being able to compete against him is nice."
At the NFL Combine in February, Collins still had some questions that league experts wanted answered. While he developed into an All-American left tackle in college, some questioned whether he could continue that success at the next level, suggesting that he would be a better fit at guard or right tackle.
Mike Huguenin of NFL.com wrote, however, that Collins' effort at the combine answered those questions, posting times in the top-15 among offensive linemen in the 40-yard dash (5.12) with a 1.81 10-yard split, three-cone drill (7.70) and 20-yard shuttle (4.63), and performing well in the drills.
"He had as good a day as anyone Friday and solidified his spot as a first-rounder," Huguenin wrote. "Everyone knows that the big money goes to left tackles. Collins kept himself in line for the big money."
In his team interviews, he said his position in the NFL has been a common topic of discussion.
"They've asked me if I could slide to the right side and then, in two years, go to the left," he said, adding that moving to guard to begin his career has been discussed. "I feel very confident in what I do, so it wouldn't be a problem."
As a young high school player, Collins began his playing days as a defensive lineman before switching to offense. Throughout high school and college, he's seen action at guard and tackle on both sides of the center.
With the combine now behind him and the 2015 NFL Draft fast approaching, Collins hopes to have left a blue-collar impression at the combine, saying that he's a player that wants to work hard and compete.
"A guy who is extremely confident in his play and ability and ready to come into the NFL and be coached at a very high level," he said. "A guy who wants to be the best at the next level and is ready to compete."