Landon Collins entered the NFL in 2015 as the second safety off the board behind Damarious Randall, who was drafted by the Green Bay Packers; Collins was a physical, versatile prospect out of the University of Alabama. However, as the New York Giants soon came to realize, Collins, then a 240-pound safety with concerns over his exact position at the next level, soon put the critics to bed.
Collins was dynamic as a rookie, leading the Giants in tackles (112) while totaling five tackles for loss, a key stat when looking at his overall skill set as a defensive player under a microscope. If you were to call him a box safety, Collins would briskly disagree, as the three-time Pro-Bowl player and current member of the Washington Football Team enters the 2021 campaign off an injury-riddled 2020 season where he tore his Achilles just seven weeks into the year.
“I laugh, honestly, because I'm not just a box safety,” Collins said in 2019. “I make plays in the box, yeah, but I make plays in other places, too. People see me in the box because that's what teams ask me to do sometimes ... pretty much it's people that don't know what they're talking about.”
It’s a telling statement for sure; you could argue he is everything but a typical second-level defender with range to backpedal and roam the apex of Washington’s defense, but it simply wouldn’t be worthwhile, and in this case, true.
Often, in sports, a downfall of one leads to the uprise of another. In this case, it couldn’t have been more true as Collins entered the tunnel in Week 7 following an achilles tear, ultimately leading to 2020 seventh-round selection Kamren Curl's insertion to the secondary. Curl, who began the year working rotationally on special teams, now found himself as the starting strong safety. To say Curl flourished would be an understatement, as he progressed into one of the league’s top rookie safeties accruing the fifth-most tackles (88) of all rookie defenders while finishing in a four-way tie for the NFL lead in interceptions by a first-year player (3). He was everywhere for defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s unit, which has now raised a riveting question of where Collins fits within Washington’s stout defensive group.
Collins has been a traditional strong safety so far in his career, although rumors swirled of a potential switch to linebacker for the 2016 All-Pro whose game thrives near the line of scrimmage. According to Del Rio, a switch isn’t imminent, but for a player in Collins with deep pockets to the tune of $31 million of guaranteed money at the time of signing just two years ago, it would seem wise to look around the screen of verbiage with a potential opt-out looming following the conclusion of the 2021 season.
Six years, $84 million for that effort? You see what I’m getting to here. And contrarily, Collins can be dominant; he can be everything you need from a downhill, rangy defensive player, but his traits simply do not mold into prototypical safety duties, especially within a defense that harps on elite athletes at every level of its scheme.
In 2019, Collins finished third in the league among all safeties in targets against (58) while finishing fourth in receptions allowed (40.) Too often Collins finds himself out of leverage where seemingly on a weekly basis he would find himself staring at the backs of receivers as opposing teams highlighted his inability to cover in space when working in single-high or man.
Prior to the 2021 draft, the transition of Collins to linebacker seemed not just inevitable, but the ideal move for a team lacking cover skills within the second level with Jon Bostic serving as a primary run defender. Fast forward to mid-May, and the selection of do-it-all linebacker Jamin Davis at No. 19 has completely spelled the idea of Collins’ potential move to join Bostic and Cole Holcomb within Del Rio’s linebacking core. Then there’s the notion of Collins playing the “Buffalo nickel” spot, where the formation involves leaving a coverage linebacker (in this case Collins) on the field in the place of a traditional nickel player from the defensive secondary (who is most often a corner). Attempting to determine whether or not Collins could serve the role is intriguing with 6-foot-3 corner Benjamin St-Juste now in town, but as we’ve done here, there are too many outlying questions to find a role for a player on the books for $44.5 million of guaranteed cash.
Whether or not Collins dons the burgundy and gold this fall remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: a roster once scrambling for depth and production is no longer, and under head coach Ron Rivera, Collins will be forced to adapt.
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