By: Lorenzo Marquez (@iirenzo)
Landon Collins is a fourth year safety out of Alabama. His measurables: 6'0", 230 pounds, 4.53 40 time and 31.5 inch arms. Collins nursed a high-ankle sprain for the majority of the 2017 season and is undergoing a second surgery on his broken right forearm suffered at the end of this past regular season. The former first pick of the second round in 2015 is a 2-time Pro-Bowler and First Team All-Pro (2016) who has quickly gained recognition as a premier, hat-laying safety on a marginal New York Giants defense. I am going to lay out why Landon Collins is such a stellar safety, and why that matters to big football guys like us.
To contextualize an evaluation of Landon Collins, it is important to convey just how bad the New York Giants are on defense. They are capital B, ranked 31st in most major defensive categories, thumbless JPP, Plaxico Burress shooting his own leg in the club type of bad. To unpack that without taking up too much time and space, the N.Y.G. gave up nearly 6,000 yards last season, which equaled roughly 373 per game in total yards allowed. It's safe to say they aren't the ‘77 Gritz Blitz.
However, Landon Collins will not be denied. He is able to shine consistently on a terrible defensive roster with his versatility. It is important to acknowledge the dysfunction surrounding the Giants' defense because it highlights the role Collins plays. After just finishing his third season, he's the leader and traffic cop of the unit. He wants to make every single play while his effort and relentlessness stand out. The grit, fight, dog and overall drive in this man is hard to miss from a bird’s eye view.
Last of the housekeeping: I'm not going to be referring to Landon Collins as a strong or free safety, and that’s a credit to Collins. Evaluators value complete safeties who can do a surplus of things that outgrow these two rigid position titles, and Collins embodies that model. He can play center field, he can bring pressure, he can walk up to play four yards off and sit in a zone, he can press, he has the strength to cover tight-ends and the speed to cover backs, and most importantly he can attack the line of scrimmage as well as any safety I've ever seen. (Apologies, @HarriSmith22)
Landon Collins makes his money in the run game. Period. If there is a single takeaway from this piece, it should be that running backs who take the field against Landon Collins probably need an extra 30 in the ice bath the morning after. He led the Giants in total tackles last season with 99, edging the second highest tackler on the team by over 20. He’ll run you over, slowly walk over you, and do it with perfect tackling mechanics. He plays at one speed: 100 mph. It doesn’t matter if he’s filling the hole or in the open field, he puts on a clinic with his tackling. Collins comes like a train, shortens his stride, puts his head to the side (bars), attacks the mid/lower section and wraps up when he needs to. He’s a sure tackler in the open field and rarely misses, even against the league’s best escape artists. The first GIF on the left shows Collins stepping down to make a shoestring tackle on the hardest back to bring down in football, Todd Gurley, in the wide open flats. The second shows Collins moving right to left from the center logo to make a textbook open field tackle.
Think of Collins’ career as one big Oklahoma drill. Often times in a blocking scheme, Collins isn’t accounted for by nature of his ever-changing alignments and general role as a safety that puts him on the back end. Because of this, the play usually comes down to Collins vs. the ball carrier in an alley, and Collins might be the best in the league at working through traffic to make the tackle. In this scenario, he wins consistently against the league's best. Below: on the left and right, notice the one on one matchup in the alley, between him and the running backs, and how he makes light work of it.
He can stack and shed tight-ends and receivers easily to make the play, but often times he goes unblocked. Not because he’s out of everyone’s reach, but because...who wants to block a train? He also finishes every play. He consistently puts hits on moving piles and ball carriers close to the sideline. He’s a throwback in this sense, and every Pop Warner coach probably smiles watching this man actually play to the whistle. This play embodies the motor Collins has. Watch Collins work from the right hashes to catch Cordarrelle Patterson.
Landon Collins is one of the most feared safeties in the NFL from a pressure standpoint. He will outpace you, work around you or just work through you. He has a knack for perfectly timing his blitz to blow up run plays, and his 9 TFL in 2016 demonstrated his ability to wreak havoc in the backfield when called upon. Collins comes off the edge on the left side to keep Kareem Hunt to no gain below.
Collins is a mismatch for almost anyone he covers at 6'0" 230 pounds with 4.5 speed. He's too fast for tight ends and too strong for receivers and backs. Collins lines up all over the field and he more than holds his own in every spot. He has all the tools to be an emergency third corner, and in Press Man, as previously stated, he's stronger than most receivers and he's able to reroute them when he gets his hands on them. He can run routes with most receivers with his 4.5 speed, fluid hips and incredibly high motor.
Playing Off-Man, Collins is incredibly patient and focused on the backfield for an ID on run or pass. When he IDs pass, his explosiveness is hard to miss. He plants his back foot and drives to the ball with authority and has the ability to close the gap and more than enough strength to break up passes. He plays faster than a 4.53 guy and can cover deep threats well with his straightline speed.
In Zone, Collins is rolling to single high coverage, covering a deep half, covering a deep third, working the flats, etc. He is among the most feared safeties in the league from a pressure standpoint, so teams are forced to pay him a great deal of attention when he shows blitz pre-snap. He's able to fixate on the QB and key in on where his eyes are going when dropping in a zone, while matching/mirroring routes working across or through his Zone. His athletic ability is on full display here, as Collins can synchronize his hips, and therefore his pedal/sprint direction, with the eyes or general direction the QB is looking to throw.
His range is good from his spot sitting on a deep half/third and it's all thanks to his ability to plant and drive to the ball quicker than most players in the league. He doesn't have elite speed, but Collins' consistent explosive play makes up for it. In Press-Zone he’s patient and strong. As previously stated, he seems to be in a flow state when he’s feeling out a route concept unfolding in front of him. He’s quick to ID where the ball is going and attack.
His ball skills align with the rest of his game. Collins finds a way to get his hands on the ball because he can run with most receivers working deeper concepts, and he breaks to the ball as well as anyone once he sees pass. He wants to make every play, and he's on his horse when the ball is in the air. Look at the distance travelled below from Collins. His ability to recover from picking up the wrong route on a double pass, locate, run under and catch the ball is impressive.
What he struggles with:
Collins can lose underneath form time to time against laterally quick, shifty wide outs. If he doesn't get in their grill and jam, which he doesn't get to do very frequently because he's primarily back in zone, they can change directions quickly and give him trouble.
Landon Collins is the Alpha on a field full of alphas. While he isn’t a lockdown presence in man, there are few holes in his game. He’s got the size, strength, speed, hips, athletic ability and mental processing to cover. He has the ball skills to create turnovers and change the outcomes of games for his team. Most importantly, he is a force in the run game and is an elite open field tackler. He’s the equivalent to a 5 tool player in baseball, and his impact on the Giants can’t be overstated. The next elite, mouth-busting safety is here and going to stick around for a while. Thanks to my big football guys. More coming soon with Tyrann Matthieu on deck.