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Broncos' rookie Justin Hollins: Fast, tall, and potentially a late bloomer

College all star defensive MVP from Oregon should help Broncos' special teams in first season.
Credit: AP
Linebacker Justin Hollins runs a drill during the NFL football scouting combine, Sunday, March 3, 2019, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — At first glance, what stands out about Justin Hollins is his frame.

He is a tad above 6-foot-5, which is more than an inch taller than taller-type pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Bradley Chubb. And at 248 pounds, Hollins is 10 pounds lighter than Ware and 20 pounds less than Chubb.

When Hollins shifts to the inside linebacker position, he towers over others like the 6-1 Todd Davis and Josey Jewell.

Broad in the shoulder, slender in the hips, Hollins has the build of a basketball small forward or a football tight end but is making the unique fit into the linebacker or edge rusher position.

“I did run track in high school,’’ he said in a one-on-one interview with 9NEWS this week. Indeed, Hollins ran the 100 meters in 10.8 seconds in high school when he was 6-5, 207 pounds. 

“Played a little basketball. Basketball wasn’t my sport though. It wasn’t at all. I just wasn’t very comfortable out there on the court like I was on the field. In junior high I played wide receiver and I played DB. Then I kind of shot up a little bit and got away from wide receiver in high school and started playing D-end and came back to it."

He played tight end, receiver and defensive end in high school but all the college recruiters considered him pass-rushing defensive end or outside linebacker, depending on the program’s system.

There is something else that sets Hollins apart from others at his position: Speed. He accelerated through the 40 in 4.5 at the NFL Combine. Only Montez Sweat had a quicker 40 among edge rushers.

Nick Bosa, who was drafted No. 2 overall, runs a 4.8. Josh Allen, who went No. 7 overall, ran his 40 in 4.64.

A 4.5 on a 6-5 frame was too tantalizing for the Broncos to pass up with their fifth-round draft pick. Here were Hollins’ defensive statistics at the University of Oregon:

Year … Class … Tkl .… TFL … Sck … FF … INT

2014 … FR ……. 10 ….. 1.0 ...…. 0 ……. 0 ... 0

2015 … Redshirt

2016 … SO ……. 51 ..... 9.5 ….. 3.0 …… 0 …. 0

2017 … JR ……. 59 … 11.0 ..… 4.5 …… 2 …. 1

2018 … SR …… 64 … 14.5 ..… 6.5 ..….. 5 …. 1

Totals ………… 184 ... 36.0 … 14.0 ...…. 7 …. 2 

The redshirt was the result of a ruptured tendon suffered during spring football of 2015. His next three seasons at Oregon proved he has recovered nicely from the surgery.

His five years at Oregon were eventful. He was part of the team that played for the national championship in his freshman season. After his injury, the Ducks won just four games in his sophomore season and the program went through a coaching change.

His term there finished with a nice rebound as the Ducks went 7-6, then 9-4 with a 7-6 bowl game victory against Michigan State.

“Oregon, man, ups and downs,’’ Hollins said. “It got tough at times and it was great at times.

“But I feel like that’s really what helped define me as a man. It helped a lot of us. Faced adversity head on. We bounced back the last two seasons, a 9-win season. It was rough at times but I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything.’’

For most of his four years at Oregon, Hollins was considered second-best to his pass-rushing teammate Jalen Jelks. The East-West Shrine Game, a collection of all-star seniors, changed that. Hollins was the game’s defensive MVP after he had 10 tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks.

“When I was going there I was kind of nervous, honestly,’’ Hollins said. “I didn’t know how it was going to go. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t really ask anybody about it.’’

Jelks wasn’t drafted until the seventh round by Dallas – two rounds and 85 overall picks after Hollins.

“I just went out there and had fun,’’ Hollins said. “Run around and made plays and see what I was capable of doing.’’

What kind of player are the Broncos getting in Justin Hollins?

“Fast, physical, versatile, athlete, basically,’’ he said.

And what does he need to work on?

“I can definitely stay in the weight room,’’ he said. “As a linebacker you have to be in the weight room a lot. Staying strong at all times just because you have to fight guards, tackles, pulling guards.

“But as far as things I have to work on, sometimes I can be too long. Being 6-5 and stuff I can be too long.’’

Hollins steady improvement and tall, fast frame has the Broncos believing they possibly have a late-bloomer who could be more productive as a pro than he was in college. At the very least he should be able to contribute on special teams from the jump.

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