Photo via GettyImages
For most of the season, I reared away from the NFL Draft, leaving me to know little about this class as a whole. Though, I do know many “draftniks” (who made this word?) have been down on the safety class, claiming that there is not a star at the top and the depth may be questionable. The problem is that the demand for safeties in the NFL far outweighs the supply. Due to this supply/demand issue, safeties are getting overvalued by analysts and consequently over-drafted by teams. While Landon Collins is a talented safety, he is going to be picked too high because of this supply/demand discrepancy.
Before anything else, it has to be established that Collins is not a better prospect than Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was… and that is okay. They are different players; comparing the two is like comparing apples to oranges. Clinton-Dix was a centerfielder type with very good range, as well as solid run defending ability outside of the tackle box. Conversely, Collins is more of a pseudo linebacker type. Collins’ role is very different than Clinton-Dix’s was, but Collins provides value in what he does and can do.
It would be unfair to throw Collins under the “box safety” umbrella because that implies a complete lack of ability in coverage, like, say, Matt Elam (I am a #hurt Ravens fan, leave me be). That is not the case with Collins. Coverage, both zone and man concepts, are not Collins’ most prominent strengths, but he can be a useful coverage piece, at least in zone.
No matter his assignment, Collins’ will struggle covering large chunks of the field due to his athleticism. When changing direction, there is not an appealing sense of fluidity and the burst he shows out of his breaks are average, at best. He has one gear, failing to accelerate well from start to full speed. On top of that, his full speed movement is not going to be enough to allow him to centerfield.
Based solely on his movement ability, one may even suggest his ability as a two-deep safety will be worrisome (could also argue that the issue is lack of depth in his drops). Between not getting depth and not having elite athleticism to make up for that, Collins will run into trouble, like he does on the play below.
Collins trusts what he sees and pounces immediately. He is especially scary when reading the quarterback, not the receiver and how a route develops. With his eyes fixed on the quarterback, Collins sees the eyes move and he gravitates to that area to make a play. On the other hand, when he is watching a receiver, he has a tendency to flip his hips too early and not get the depth he needs, allowing for more of a possibility for teams to burn him deep.
Of course, Collins’ instincts-based play means there is a bit of gambling involved (i.e. jumping one side of an option route too early), but Collins hits the jackpot more times than not, making him worth the “roller coaster” of play. Collins will be able to make plays as a “robber,” especially if he can have a high level centerfielder type over the top to give him the comfort/security he needs to take his gambles.
What is the product of Collins’ gambles? See for yourself.
As a man coverage piece, Collins lacks fluidity to keep up with players at route breaks. His reaction time is not off, but simply, the physical ability is not there. When asked to cover a right end down the seam (or something of the like), Collins’ recovery speed may inhibit him from being a reliable man coverage piece.
Though, it is pretty clear that Collins will be making his money as a run defender more than anything. Within the wide-9 box, Collins is a top notch run defender. He finds holes, flows to them and crashes down on the ball carrier. His ideal frame allows him to play at no disadvantage against running backs, and he is a strong tackler largely due in part to that. Collins drives his shoulder into the targets hip and takes them to the ground.
Just as they work in the pass game, Collins’ instincts and big play ability kick in as a run defender, too. He can sniff out runs quickly and time his attacks well. On the example below, Collins times his snap jump with the motion of the receiver and tackles Gators running back Matt Jones in the backfield.
The concern with Collins as a box defender is how well he can flow to the sideline to stop stretch runs and short throws. As of now, Collins take poor angles and is often caught having to work back up field with the ball carrier. Collins does not have the sheer athletic ability to take questionable angles and still make plays, so cleaning up those angles is going to be key for his success at the next level. Can he do it? Sure, players can improve in an area like this. Will he and should it be expected? No, not ever.
To add to the laundry list of issues that Collins has in space, his lack of change of direction fluidity is problematic. He can be caught over-pursuing and fail to correct his line of movement in time. Even when he has slowed down a bit and has the time to predicate his move, Collins fails to show the lateral burst to keep up with ball carries and one simple move has the potential to completely work Collins over. In the Jeff Driskel scramble displayed below, Collins seems to almost miss the tackle and it appears he would have if linebacker Trey DePriest did not begin tackling Driskel first. Notice how harsh Collins’ stop is.
What is Landon Collins in the NFL? Collins is a smart, but athletically limited safety that is going to need a sound situation and proper usage to be the player people want him to be. Without a quality free safety helping him over the top, Collins’ gambling nature will be exposed as more of a flaw than an asset, an asset that is Collins’ most valuable.
At best, Collins proves to be someone as helpful in the box and serviceable in coverage as someone like Reshad Jones, but he may also end up like a Morgan Burnett who is a liability in coverage more times than not. If you are a General Manager, where can you take a prospect like this? Certainly not in the first round, like many couch GMs seem to want to do. Collins going in the second round could be rationalized, especially to someone like San Diego, but I would not be comfortable taking him until the third round.
Collins can be a very good pseudo linebacker type safety, but his floor is a backup safety with middling coverage ability and a likely special teams role. That is not a prospect I want to take in the first two rounds, especially seeing as his ceiling is nothing special due to how questionable his athleticism is.