The safety-needy New York Giants made an aggressive draft day move to get Landon Collins, swapping their 40th overall pick and a fourth-round pick to the Tennessee Titans to move to the 33rd spot -- the first of the second round -- to grab Collins.
The Alabama star was expected to start right away for the Giants, and he has. Through the first 10 games of his career, has Collins justified the Giants' faith in him or has he proven concerns about his range, coverage skills and hands to be accurate?
Pro Football Focus certainly is not fond of Collins' work thus far. The rookie is 82nd out of 84 safeties graded by PFF with a score of -9.1. He is dead last in coverage at -9.8, was allowed four touchdowns and the 340 yards he has allowed in pass coverage is the most of any safety. He has also been credited with 10 missed tackles. Alarmingly, and tellingly, the only safety in the league who has missed more tackles in Brandon Meriweather of the Giants, with 14.
"He's coming along very slowly right now," safeties coach Dave Merritt said during the bye week in regards to Collins. "The game is fast mentally for him still."
Merritt compared Collins to Kenny Phillips, the safety the Giants made the 31st overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Meritt pointed out that Phillips started only three games that season, so much more is being asked of Collins.
"I think the thing that's happening with Landon is again he's moving along just like most rookies do, especially at a safety position, where you have to not only see formations, but you have to control everything," Merritt said. "To ask any rookie to come into the league and be top notch at that position would be pretty tough."
College Scouting Reports
I had the opportunity recently to sit with Dan Hatman, Director of The Scouting Academy, and go through some of Collins' game film. Before we do that, below are some of the pre-draft scouting reports on Collins.
Collins is a tempo-setter who can energize a defense with his downhill, aggressive style. He is at his best when he can attack rather than sit back in coverage and process. Collins' tackling, pursuit angles and speed to the sideline can help a defense shut down rushing attacks, but his inconsistencies in coverage will be tested by NFL offenses.
If allowed to attack, Collins' aggression, physicality and knack for creating big plays could lead to him becoming a star in the NFL. He isn't a top-notch cover safety, however, and therefore should be complemented with other speedier options in the secondary.
Collins isn't a rangy center fielder and can struggle to play man coverage on tight ends and wide receivers in the deep part of the field. At the next level, he'll need to be protected from those kind of mismatches with a quality free safety to handle those duties. Collins is a physical tackler and a good run-defender in the tackle box.
Sources feel that, in the NFL, Collins is going to be better playing closer to the line of scrimmage and should excel as the eighth man in the box. He is an excellent run-defender as he is a reliable tackler and also puts ball-carriers down with authority. Collins operates well in zone coverage and does well defending the short to intermediate part of the field.
One thing in some of these reports that is not included in the blurbs above is reference to the fact that Collins does not have good hands and drops a lot of balls that should be interceptions. We saw that rear its ugly head against the Patriots on Sunday.
In all, though, what the Giants could have expected to get was a physical, smart safety who was good in run support, a solid tackler, but a guy who struggled in coverage and doesn't have great ball skills. Is that what we have seen thus far?
Hatman and I watched three games in our review of Collins -- against the Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Patriots.
If you want to view Hatman's full scouting report, you can find it here. Here is a little bit from that report:
Functional starting DS (defensive safety) who can execute in underneath Zone coverages and as a run defender. Not an asset in man coverage or as a tackler this season. ... Overall, a rookie DB who has been placed in the starting role based on draft position and health and does not seem confident. Functional in his current role, but displayed a more aggressive and physical skill set at ALUN (Alabama) that has not translated to date. Is in the right role for the NYG, but needs to regain confidence in his skill set to maximize his abilities on the field.
Here are two examples of Collins getting abused in man coverage.
The first is vs. New England when Scott Chandler beats him cleanly across the middle for a touchdown.
The second comes when Zach Ertz of the Eagles beats Collins down the middle. Hatman pointed out Collins lack of proper position in not playing for the outside breaking route and then his inability to cleanly tackle Ertz, who dragged him an extra five yards. What you can't see in the second image is that Collins had help in the deep middle of the field.
A couple of other comments made by Hatman. During the time we were watching the Eagles film, he said "If you had to draft him off this film you wouldn't take him at the top of the second round."
That was Week 6 and in the later games Hatman did not some improvement in his awareness in zone coverage, and some instances where Collins aggressively attacked the line of scrimmage on running plays. It was disturbing, however, while watching the Tampa Bay game to hear Hatman say "I just want to see a guy w/a physical rep being physical once. Once."
The following from Hatman's scouting report is problematic for a guy considered to be a "box" safety:
Not an aggressive run defender both in his fits and finish. Will allow himself to be carried into the wash from the backside of zone plays instead of leveraging his gap, giving the runner a cutback option, and consistently meeting runners further downfield than is needed.
For reference, here is an example against the Eagles. Collins, beginning at the bottom of the screen, gets washed all the way into the middle of the field while DeMarco Murray picks up a nice chunk of yardage right where the rookie safety needed to be.
I truly believe that what we see here is a talented rookie who isn't yet sure of himself. He has flaws that may never get appreciably better, such as his pure man coverage skills and the quality of his hands. Much like we see with rookie left tackle Ereck Flowers, however, what you bank on is that what you see now is not what you are going to see a year or two from now.
You hope that the game does eventually slow down for him, that experience allows the instincts and aggression he showed at Alabama to come forward, that he becomes a force in run support and at least in the short areas of the field against the pass.
Collins, to my eyes, would also benefit from playing with a true free safety. Let's not compare ability levels, but Collins is much more Kam Chancellor than he is Earl Thomas. While Meriweather has experience that can help Collins and the Giants, he has more of a strong safety skill set that mirrors that of Collins. You can't help but wonder how much better Collins would be paired with a real free safety.