L.J. Collier is from a small town in north-central Texas, near the panhandle.
How small is Munday, Texas?
His high-school class had 25 people in it. Do a Google-map search of Munday, population 1,500 give or take a few mailboxes, and the establishment most prominently highlighted is Dairy Queen. That’s on the upper edge of town near the intersections of route 277 and 222.
“Allsup’s a good place to get a burrito,” the Seahawks’ newest pass rusher said of the convenience store on Birch Avenue in Munday.
“It’s a good place. I really enjoyed growing up there.”
Collier played everywhere on his high-school football team: defensive end, tight end, running back, even kicker. He left Munday as a star athlete bound for Fort Worth, 2 1/2 hours to the southeast, to play big-time football for Texas Christian University.
During his freshman year at TCU, already a difficult transition year in any young adult’s life, his mother Ruby—his constant source of inspiration and support who attended every one of his games and was always there for him—was gone. She died, of cancer.
“My mother means the world to me,” Collier said Thursday. “She’s watched me play every game, and she believe in me all the time.”
In the dark months after her death, Collier’s play suffered as a TCU freshman. Eventually, it flourished. His first year as a college starter was last year, as a senior. He had six sacks, 11 1/2 tackles for loss and Pro Football Focus named him the Big 12 Conference’s best pass rusher in 2018.
Thursday night, the Seahawks and the kid from tiny Munday, Texas, made Mom proud. Seattle, in need of a nasty pass rusher and defensive lineman after trading top sack man Frank Clark, feels it got one by selecting Collier with the 29th pick in the NFL draft.
The Seahawks used the 29th pick in round one they got from Kansas City in Monday’s trade of Clark to select the 6-foot-2, 291-pound Collier.
Before and after doing that, the Seahawks traded down. Again. Twice.
Of course they did.
In doing so they gained four additional picks, to bring their total selections in this draft to nine. Seattle began this week with four picks, fewest in the league and what would have been the fewest in team history.
“It’s awesome,” Carroll said.
When they finally picked Thursday night in round one of the 2019 NFL draft, they addressed their glaring need for pass rushers.
Carroll says Collier has pass-rush instincts and quickness off the ball past offensive linemen that reminds him of Michael Bennett, Seattle’s former Pro Bowl defensive end. The coach said the rookie will play the “five-technique” end, off the outside shoulder of the opposing offensive tackle. Bennett’s old role.
The Seahawks have now selected defensive linemen early in consecutive drafts trying to find that five-technique end Bennett was so exquisitely, until Seattle traded him to Philadelphia before the 2018 season. Last season it was Rasheem Green in the third round from USC. Carroll said Thursday the team needs to get more out of him this year now that Clark is gone.
Counting Malik McDowell, the failed top pick in 2017 who never played a game for them, the Seahawks have used the top of the last three drafts trying to find pass rushers like Bennett was, though McDowell was supposed to do it more from inside at tackle.
What is Collier’s mentality heading to Seattle?
“Man, I’m Cloud 9, man!” he said Thursday night from a family draft party with about 30 people, all of them roaring on the background while he talked on the phone, inside a hotel in Frisco, Texas.
“It’s a crazy feeling, man. I’m ready to get to work, I know that. ...It’s truly and honor. I really appreciate Coach Carroll and everybody there that took a chance on me, man.
“They took a chance on a good one.”
What is his mentality on the field?
Well, this was Collier’s answer when asked recently by McClatchy’s Star-Telegram in Fort Worth, Texas, TCU’s home city, about pass rushing against offensive linemen: “I’m going to get in your face and kick your ass the whole game. It’s that simple, really.”
The Seahawks will take some of that.
They need some of that.
“I’m not just a pass rusher. I’m an overall player,” Collier said. “I got all out, 110 percent of the time.”
He said he knows his mother is beaming over him, from above.
She’s actually been smiling down on him since he graduated from TCU, earning that college degree she wanted for him more than anything else.
Now, this: becoming a first-round pick in the NFL.
“I know that she was thinking of me tonight, and she was with me here tonight,” Collier said. “That’s why I’ going to give it my all, because I’m going to give it my all for her—like I did in college. Nothing’s changed. I’m still hungry. I’m still ready to go.”
Carroll and Schneider said they could feel that motivation in Collier in his pre-draft visit to Seahawks’ headquarters this spring. The coach loves to have his team culture fueled by players who have chips on their shoulders, to use the term Carroll did again multiple times talking about his new pass rusher.
“I fell in love with the fact that he had a big chip on his shoulder and he wanted to prove it,” Carroll said.
“He has something to prove, and that came through in his interviews.”
The GM said Collier “fits us.”
“He’s a heavy-handed, tough, chip-on-his-shoulder guy,” Schneider said. “He lost his mother when he was a freshman in college, and he didn’t play well in the last game that she saw. And he’s always used that to his advantage.”
Collier’s only time to Seattle was on that pre-draft visit here.
“One time. And I loved it,” he said. “The setting. The people. It’s a football town, and I know that I’m going to be welcomed there.
“I’m going to work my tail off for them. And I’m going to be loved and welcomed there. I’m ready for it.”
Collier became a Seahawk after, for the eighth consecutive year, general manager John Schneider and Carroll traded down out of their selection in the first round to gain additional choices. They gave Schneider’s hometown Green Bay Packers the 21st-overall choice to move down nine spots, to 30, and gain two picks in the fourth round Saturday, at 114th and 118th overall.
After drafting Collier at 29, what the Seahawks do with their new pick at 30?
They traded it, of course.
Seattle gained the second-round pick it really wanted by giving its choice at 30 to the New York Giants. The Seahawks moved down seven spots, to the 37th-overall pick five picks into round two on Friday. They also got one of the Giants’ fourth-round choices, at 132, and one in the fifth round, at 142.
“We have, like, five picks and we’re going again. We are really fired up about that, for sure,” Carroll said.
The Seahawks also still had the 29th selection in round one, thanks to their trade of top pass rusher Frank Clark to Kansas City that both teams made official hours before the draft began Thursday.
Despite top pass rusher Montez Sweat of Mississippi State remaining available, the Seahawks traded instead of picked and upped their total for this draft to, at the time, seven selections.
Sweat went five spots after Seattle traded down, to Washington. The Redskins traded up with the Colts to draft him.
Seattle has not used its own first-round choice to select a player since guard James Carpenter in 2011.
The Seahawks now own the 37th-overall choice five spots into round two Friday, a pick late in round three (92), four selections in round four Saturday (114, 118, 124 and 132) and two choices in the fifth round, at 142 and 159.
Why do the Seahawks trade down so often?
They almost never have first-round grades for more than 20 guys in the first round, and they’ve been picking around or above 20th in six of the last seven drafts. So, the Seahawks figure, why give a guy a slotted, first-round contract plus the potentially rich, fifth-year option that comes with it for what they see as a second-round player?
And this particular draft is regarded as as extremely deep in second- and third-round talent. Schneider mentioned this week the tier of top talent goes down a notch after round three.
The night began as expected, with Seattle’s NFC West rivals Arizona and San Francisco selecting Oklahoma’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa first and second overall, respectively.
The Seahawks will face the top two picks four times in 2019. They play at Murray and Arizona on Sept. 29 and at Bosa’s 49ers Nov. 11. Seattle hosts the Cardinals Dec. 22 and San Francisco Dec. 29 to end the regular season.
The 49ers’ defensive front now has Dee Ford, whom San Francisco traded with Kansas City for and gave him $17 million per year, DeForest Buckner, their 12-sack man last season, and now Bosa. That’s an issue for the Seahawks’ offensive line and game-planning, and for that of every other division rival.
Just before and after the Seahawks’ flurry late in round one, Philadelphia selected Washington State tackle Andre Dillard, considered one of the draft’s best pass blockers, with the 22nd choice.
Then Washington Huskies’ offensive tackle Kaleb McGary continued his remarkable rebound—from him and his family losing their farm and living crowded into a trailer—into the NFL when Atlanta traded with the Rams to make him a first-round draft choice, at 31.
Through all that, Collier heads to Seattle on a mission.
He already passed of the Seahawks’ odder tests.
“They tested (me at Senior Bowl all-star game in late January) to see how long I could keep my eyes open,” he said.
And how long did he?
“About four to five minutes,” Collier said. “They had the Chiefs’ (playoff) game on at the time of the Senior Bowl and I was watching that, so it wasn’t hard, at all.
“They were like, ‘Wow! I didn’t know someone could keep their eyes open for that long.”