A few days before the 2015 NFL Draft, Ed posted his annual "Big Blue View Rules For Draft Success". The sixth rule on his list warns against trading up in the draft.
The New York Giants strictly obeyed that rule ...
... For roughly 24 hours.
The second round of the draft started with a bang as the Giants' GM Jerry Reese couldn't contain himself any longer, blatantly ignoring Ed's sage advice and traded for the first pick of the night. That pick, as we all remember, was used to select Landon Collins of Alabama.
Collins was widely regarded as the best safety in the draft class, however concerns about his range and coverage ability caused him to slide out of the first round. And while the NFL at large seemed to view Collins as a "Box" safety, and therefore a less valuable player than a true free safety, Collins disagrees with that:
"I played in the box at Alabama, but I was a safety. It was not an in the box safety. I played free, strong and played our money position, which was our fifth [defensive back] on the field. [I] was not just an in the box safety," Collins said. "I'm going to show them I'm an all-around safety. That's all I can say."
Collins alleviated concerns about his speed at the NFL Scouting Combine with a 4.53 second 40 yard dash, while a 35 inch vertical, and 10 foot broad jump showed his lower-body explosiveness. However, his short-shuttle and 3-cone drills were less than impressive.
So then, what kind of player did the Giants get with the 33rd pick of the 2015 draft?
There are two logical places to put a section that isn't really related to the others: First or last. Most everyone reading this right now is probably wondering why I'm mentioning Collins' special teams abilities first when he was a high draft pick who was selected to improve the Giants' defense. Well, there are two reasons:
1) Collins has been a special teams ace his entire career at Alabama. That's a big part of who he is as a football player
2) One of the thrusts of the Giants' 2015 offseason has been improving their special teams.
This play is really what Collins, who has been one of 'Bama's best special teams players since he arrived on campus, is all about on special teams.
He is lined up as a gunner on the left of the formation, and is the first player down the field. While there is a blocker assigned to Collins, he doesn't so much take him on as run through him, and then past him. When he gets there, Collins manages to lay a big hit while at the same time making it a secure tackle -- depressingly rare nowadays, regardless of level of competition.
Ironically, run defense is considered Collins' greatest strength, and that is why he slid out of the first round. So let's take a look at a couple run plays.
There is quite a bit going on in this play. Alabama is in a 3-man front, but in a nickel set. Collins appears to be in a cover-2 shell (2 deep safeties) however, it is really a Cover 1 shell as Alabama is sending a corner blitz. You can at the snap you can see No. 30 come on a blitz while the other safety comes down to defend the receiver at the bottom of the screen.
The Alabama defensive front does a fantastic job of holding up at the point of attack, and the outside linebacker and blitzing corner force the running back to cut back to the outside. Collins, recognizing the run, quickly comes down to fill the hole on the left side of the defense. On the way Collins does a better job than most linebackers of shedding the block from the right guard.
This could have been a nice gain for the offense. Despite being forced to cut back, the running back had gotten the edge on the 5-technique and there was room to get a 4 to 6-yard gain. However, Collins was there to limit it to little more than a yard.
As offenses move faster and try to spread defenses out more, sweeps and screen plays are becoming more and more prevalent as an extension of the running game. In this play we find Alabama once again in the nickel, but this time in a four-man front. They are also playing a 2-deep coverage scheme, with Collins as one of the deep safeties.
In a "normal" screen pass two of the receivers would be acting as blockers for the third. However this play brings in an element from a sweep play as the running back motions across the formation to the outside. Rather than take a handoff from the quarterback like a receiver would in a normal sweep, the running back catches the pass as he gets outside, and behind his blockers.
The blockers do a decent job of getting in front of their assignments, and it largely falls to Collins, as the play-side safety, to come up and make the tackle. He does that brilliantly, coming downhill almost as soon as the ball is snapped. Collins plays this snap with his eyes in the backfield, and the running back never has a chance.
As much as the Giants need to shore up their run defense (and they do), they need their safeties to improve their pass defense as much, if not more.
The play starts out with Collins lined up as the free safety, however just before the snap there is a 3-player rotation that sees Collins come down to cover the receiver. The defense sends a blitz, vacating the middle of the field. That then becomes Collins' responsibility when his man runs the quick slant.
Collins knows his defense is sending pressure, and recognizes that the quick pass is coming to his man. He gets a bit of depth so he can get around the official before breaking on the ball. The throw is a bit behind the receiver, so Collins is able to make the interception. But even if it wasn't, Collins break on the ball was so hard, and so fast, that his tackle would have stood a good chance of causing an incompletion.
Once again Alabama is in their nickel set, with Collins walking up to show blitz. He does a tremendous job of anticipating the snap count, and gets into Florida's backfield before anyone can even think about blocking him. In fact, he does such a good job, he is able to turn the corner and bring the runner down from behind, half a yard behind the line of scrimmage.
Even more impressive, I think, on this play are Collins' discipline and instincts.
Florida's offense is faking a sweep/end around to threaten the edge and force defenders out of the tackle box. Collins doesn't bite on the fake one bit. Instead he stays disciplined in his assignment and gets the crucial tackle for a loss to get Florida's offense off the field.
Had this been a pass play, it would have been a huge sack for an even bigger loss.
So what are the Giants getting in Landon Collins? For one a safety who is "built like a truck" as cornerback Prince Amukamara put it. And there will be plenty of running backs, receivers, and special teams returners will feel as though they got hit by a truck when Collins comes up to make a tackle.
But more than that, Collins is an intelligent and instinctive player who has a habit of making plays for his defense. Collins has a habit of being in the right place at the right time, and the ability to line up the back end of a defense. He lead Alabama in interceptions last year, and his hits have a tendency to force fumbles.
Collins isn't without his faults. He isn't at his best when asked to run down the field with receivers, and Ole Miss took advantage of that twice. First to tie the game in 2014, and then for the game-winning touchdown. Collins is a tremendous football player and can play the center field as well, but he is at his best when attacking downhill or in shallow coverages.
Collins is smart, instinctive and a leader, who should be a weapon against running backs, tight ends, and blitzing, and before long receivers should fear going over the middle against the New York Giants.