The best Strong Safety in the NFL, hasn’t actually played a down yet at the position since the NY Giants were riddled with injuries throughout his rookie year. 2015 overall was a season to forget for the G Men, finishing at 6-10 with a half dozen games lost in the final 2 minutes, whereas strong performances by Eli Manning and Odell Beckham didn’t seem to make much of an impact on the supporting cast. Yet if there was one silver lining to come out of last season it was Landon Collins, who led the team with 112 tackes (84 solo, 28 assist) starting all 16 games out of position at Free Safety.
Once Nat Berhe went down with a season ending injury, Steve Spagnuolo decided to put Brandon Meriweather at SS and Collins at Free, perhaps in regards to the former’s history of scarce pass defense along with the unlimited potential in their recent 2nd rd draft pick. In fact Collins was always projected to be a sure thing for the 1st rd, and even attended the draft in Chicago only to be left disappointed when his name was never called. Thus there’s no doubt Collins played with a chip on his shoulder last season, and it showed in his play where by season’s end he earned himself a reputation as one of the best run defenders in all of football.
[One of his 112 tackles last season - notice AP’s reaction after the play - smh Collins is a baaaaaaaaaad man]
Before we delineate further on his incredible ability, it’s always important to get to know the man beneath the helmet and shoulder pads, and Collin’s story is a mixed bag of adversity and sheer domination. Once a New Orleans native, his family was forced to leave the city after Hurricane Katrina, in which case they later settled in Geismar, an ‘unincorporated community’ in Ascension Parish. It was here where Collins attended Dutchtown High School, and dominated the competition on both sides of the ball, becoming the first player ever to earn 5A All State honors for both offense and defense. Although he was undeniably fierce with the ball in his hands (1,218 yards, 21 TD’s, 13.7 yards per carry his senior year), he was most coveted for his prowess on defense, where he was crowned an All American as well as a 5 star recruit heading into the 2012 Under Armour All Star Game - his first national exposure where once again he separated himself from everyone.
However even more notable than his actual performance in that game (where he had an interception and a goal line stand), was his announcement on live TV that he’d soon be joining the Alabama Crimson Tide, much to his mother’s very visible disappointment who was sitting beside him. As seen below his mother was even vocal about her distaste for the decision, making it very clear that she would have preferred her son stay at home and play for the Louisiana State Tigers.
After that clip went viral his mother was interviewed by multiple publications about the incident, where she explained her feelings regarded education and immediate playing time, as it was assumed Collins would start as soon as he stepped on to LSU’s campus. Instead Collins was mostly a Special Teams player his Freshman year at Alabama, where he had 17 total tackles and a blocked punt, and would have been a reserve again his Sophomore year if it wasn’t for an injury to an upperclassmen. Nonetheless whatever her motivations were the footage left questions in regards to Collins support system, where it was likely to be assumed that moving forward he’d have to be mentally strong enough to manage this transition on his own (although it’s actually Collins step-mother in the video who walks by his real mother to embrace him, and off camera it was said that Collins had the support of his father as well.)
[It should be clarified that this article doesn’t seek to make any judgment at all regarding Collins mother, as in his earliest years it’s been said she raised him and his siblings by herself (although his father was also very involved in his life but lived elsewhere), and to provide for her family she was a costume designer and a stylist in the movie business - where she was even able to get Collins and his brother non speaking roles in the films Deja Vu, Big Momma’s House 2, and The Locusts- how’s that for a fun fact...]
Of course if it wasn’t for an injury to a teammate Collin’s mother might have been right, as he presumably wouldn’t have started until his Junior season, in which case he may have needed to stay in college another year before he entered the draft. Yet of course everything happens for a reason, and after contributing to a National Championship in 2012, he had 70 tackles 2 INTs (1 Pick 6) and 2 forced fumbles in 2013
followed by 103 tackles, 3 INTs, and 1 forced fumble in 2014.
It was then Collins decided to enter the NFL draft, where by most accounts he was considered to be the top safety in the class, and a year later the Giants are more than thankful that they traded up to get him.
For those who noticed Collins changed his # from 26 to 21 from the college to the pros, it should be noted that it wasn't by accident or inspired by Tiki Barber’s legacy with the team (although Tiki definitely is one of the best Giants RB’s of all time, an article for a different day), but instead it was by design a tribute to Collins favorite all time football player, the late great Sean Taylor. The former Washington Redskin and Miami Hurricane whose life was tragically taken away in a home invasion, also once wore #26 in college and #21 in the pros, and also was an indestructible force over the middle who punished opponents every time he took the field. It goes without saying if Collins is half the player Taylor is, then the Giants have a SS that is prime to make a major splash in this league before long.
Last season Collins was all over the field, not only starting in all 16 games but playing approximately 95% of the snaps, and as a rookie quickly becoming the most dependable player on the entire defense. Yes he indeed struggled in pass coverage as advertised, as that was never his strong suit even in college, and considering he was playing out of position he was burned last year more than once (he did have 9 pass deflections however). Yet like all great defensive backs Collins demonstrated a good short term memory, and overall put together a rookie campaign that indicated he can be a leader on this team for many years to come.
Here’s a clip of Collin’s lone interception last season… clearly more the all around athlete than he’s given credit for...
[Here's one of his 9 pass deflections last season]
[Here's him getting his defense off the field]
Thus far the media has overlooked the potential of Collins, partially because he’s only been in the league one year and played with a team that was a non-factor, and mainly because he hasn’t been able to play to his strengths - where he’s so efficient against the run that some have even argued he should put on weight and become a full time linebacker. Yet when you study the game tapes it’s not hard to notice why that would be a mistake, as his talent of working down hill is unparalleled and can't be substituted, therefore to put him inside the box would inevitably marginalize his impact and his overall value.
Here he is playing center field defending a swing pass to his left, and watch how quickly he closes on the receiver and makes the tackle without giving up any forward momentum. It’s even more impressive when you notice he actually makes a pre-snap check that takes him further away from the route, yet all the same he’s still able to make the play for a 3 yard gain.
On the flipside however here he’s lined up just off the line of scrimmage, and you can see his speed rushing off the edge as he makes the tackle in the backfield - giving credence to those who are right in assuming he’d be a damn good linebacker after all.
In fact he’d be able to make an impact if you put him anywhere, yet now with the emergence of 3rd rd draft pick Darian Thompson, with a healthy Berhe and an improved Cooper Taylor, it’s likely Collins production will skyrocket in the Strong Safety slot throughout the upcoming season - where a player who last March was ranked by Bleacher Report as the 37th best Free Safety in the NFL - is about to put the fear of god into running backs and receivers across the league - reminiscent of another safety watching from up above who once transcended the position.
Look for Collins to continue his success in 2016, where I predict he’ll be a major factor in helping the Giants return to the playoffs, keeping in mind the Giants best teams always won their championships on DEFENSE 💪