NEPD Staff Writer: Oliver Thomas
New England Patriots rookie second-round draft pick Jamie Collins is a man of flash.
He flashed with a regressing football program and he flashed with his athletic measurables, but he can be more than just a flash in Foxboro?
As a 6’3”, 250-pound former high school quarterback-turned-safety-turned-“Bandit”-linebacker, Collins stood apart at Southern Mississippi — a team that went 0-12 last year. He played in 52 games over his college career and ranked first in Conference USA in tackles for loss, second in sacks and second in forced fumbles as a senior in 2012.
Collins was touted for his sheer athletic ability over the pre-draft process. And when given an extended look, he made scouts drool at the NFL combine by posting a broad jump of 139 inches, 4.64-second 40-yard dash and a 41.5-inch vertical jump.
Yet when New England selected the Golden Eagle 52nd overall in April’s draft, the reviews were mixed. Some thought he was too erratic to be a Day 2 choice. Some thought he had a tendency to “dog it.” Some thought that he was a byproduct of an inferior coaching staff.
Bill Belichick and Co. may have thought the same. Nevertheless, the opportunity to secure Collins’ upside was seemingly too great for the Patriots to pass up.
Collins is a mixed bag of promise and uncertainty. That is, of course, the case with all prospects. But thanks to the video cut-ups done by Aaron Aloysius and JM Pasq of DraftBreakdown.com, there’s still a venue to dissect the ups and downs of Collins’ game from his days in Hattiesburg.
Let’s take a look at the 23-year-old formerly known as “No. 8.”
Collins provided a spark in the Southern Miss defensive front. He’s leg strength helped him get off the line of scrimmage in a hurry, and it also helped him acquaint himself with quarterbacks. He accumulated 10 sacks last campaign.
One of those came against mobile Nebraska signal-caller Taylor Martinez on Sept. 1, 2012. Facing “20” personnel with two running backs and no tight ends, there wasn’t much room for Martinez to hide, as Collins stood off from the left tackle.
Collins set the edge, breaking past the outside shoulder of the blindside blocker. Meanwhile in shotgun, Martinez went through a play-action fake to his halfback.
By the time the left tackle redirected his footwork and extended his arms, it was too late. Collins had the QB in his sights and dove for a shoelace sack.
The loss of yards may have been a direct result of a mismatch in protection. That said, Collins quickness across the line is a desirable trait. Stand-up pass-rushers are needed, especially with the uptick of hybrid alignments.
A Reliance on Athleticism
One of the concerns with Collins is he sometimes looks like he’s just going through the motions. He’s a top flight athlete who occasionally works on half of his cylinders.
During the tilt against the Cornhuskers, Collins lined up across from the right tackle while Nebraska went trips left. With four receivers bundled and five total targets on the field, Collins had a runway to the backfield.
But instead of showing the explosion of his previous sack, he rolled out of his start and ran upright as Martinez tossed a screen to his wideout.
Collins closed in on the route-runner, but stood too upright to stay in front for the tackle. The ball-carrier swung back around him despite the fact Collins was unblocked.
Realizing he was out of position to make the tackle, Collins decided on a last-ditch effort: lunging.
Collins could have very well wrapped up this play for a five-yard loss. Instead, he got a sluggish start out of the gate and didn’t finish strong.
Lunging has been a double-edged sword for Collins. While it can net sacks and tackles, it can also net miscues and big gains. Regardless, Belichick has an affinity for high motors. And there’s reason to believe Collins’ can be tuned up.
Adjusting to Coverage
At a glance, Collins has all the physical tools to be a tremendous cover linebacker. He is fast, he can jump and he can close. Yet at this time, he’s still a work in progress in terms of pass defense.
In zone looks, Collins is instinctive. When Southern Miss played Houston on Dec. 3 of 2011, he lined up in the seam as the front operated out of a 3-3-5.
As the inside receiver cuts upfield, Collins transfers responsibilities to the “Z” receiver running underneath.
The problem, though, is that Collins overruns the “Z” receiver and gets caught.
Stuck strides behind and forced to change direction again, Houston completes a pass into the flat.
Collins had the right idea. He switched men knowing that he had help over top. Unfortunately, his adjustment was not turn-key and he was unable to re-direct.
If Collins can continue to work on his coverage, the Patriots will have a very dangerous specimen to place over the middle of the field versus the pass.
Flipping a Switch
What makes Collins so intriguing is that he can turn it on. At times, he looks like he’s take a breather. But on other occasions, he looks like he wants to do damage.
Facing Western Kentucky on Sept. 22 of last season, Collins wanted to do damage.
Squatting in the nine-technique versus the Hilltoppers’ “22” personnel, there was a lot of bodies in between Collins and the backfield.
That didn’t matter. Collins lowered his center of gravity, bull-rushing Western Kentucky’s tight end back and clearing a lane.
The tailback inherited the ball and worked the left side of the line looking for an opening to take flight.
Instead, all he got was a landing.
Collins broke through, lifted the rusher up into the air before slamming him down in a move usually only seem in wrestling.
Collins knows how to finish plays off. It’s just a matter of finishing plays off consistently. He’ll have to do so in order to find a role with the Patriots. And based on what he has been able to flash over his collegiate years, expect him to do so.
Taking the peaks with the valleys, the Patriots may have just captured lightning in a bottle with Jamie Collins.