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New England Patriots roster breakdown: #91 LB Jamie Collins

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One of the best young linebackers in the NFL is entering the final year of his rookie contract.

NFL: New England Patriots at Houston Texans Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots‘ 2016 training camp is underway. Players fight for practice repetitions and playing time to earn one of the 53 spots on the roster. They have until late August, when each team has to start making its roster cuts, to secure a role.

Until then, players have to secure their spots on the team; they need to do their jobs (well) or someone else will. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots on the 2016 New England Patriots. Today, we’ll continue the series with linebacker Jamie Collins.

Name: Jamie Collins

Position: Linebacker

Jersey number: 91

Age: 26

Experience: 3

Size: 6’3, 250 lbs.

2015 review: Entering the season, Collins was a fixture at linebacker alongside Dont’a Hightower and already among the NFL’s elite at the position. His 2015 campaign further cemented his status as one of the best and most versatile young linebackers in the league – at least when he was on the field.

Collins struggled with injuries throughout the season. Overall, he appeared in 14 of the Patriots’ 18 games, but was forced to miss weeks 9 to 12 because of an illness. He also struggled with minor ailments throughout the year. Collins did play more snaps than any other linebacker on New England’s roster and finished the season with a playing time percentage of 69.7 (871 of 1,249). However, anything less than 90% is worrisome considering the natural drop-off in quality behind the starting duo.

When he was on the field, Collins was spectacular most of the times – his extra point block against the Indianapolis Colts stands as one of the most memorable plays of New England’s season. He finished the year with a team-leading 103 tackles (10 of which run stuffs), while adding 7.5 sacks, eight quarterback pressures and three hits, as well as three forced fumbles and one recovery, which he returned for his first career touchdown.

And while he was inconsistent in coverage during the AFC Championship game, he has had another solid year defending the pass. Of the 37 passes thrown in Collins’ direction, 19 (51.4%) were completed for 169 yards and two scores. The first-time Pro Bowler also broke up five passes and added an interception.

2016 preview: Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Collins will return as one of the team’s staring linebackers and is once again projected to play the vast majority of snaps at the position. Therefore, the major questions looking forward to the 2016 season are not related to the 26-year old’s performances – he will likely once again play at a Pro Bowl-worthy level – but rather if he can stay healthy for all or most of the season coming off an injury-riddled campaign.

A healthy Collins to team up with Hightower gives the Patriots one of the best linebacker duos in the league. At full strength, Collins is a three-down defender, who plays both the run and the pass well and is versatile enough to play on and off the line of scrimmage. Having him available throughout the year allows the team to also use Hightower more creatively (and vice versa) and makes the entire New England defense better.

And while the Patriots have added some talent at linebacker over the course of the offseason and are giving Rob Ninkovich more practice reps at the position recently, having Collins available especially for the playoffs has to be a priority for the team. As has to be re-signing him before he hits the open market after the season. In both cases, we will have to wait and see – and hope that they turn out in the Patriots’ favor.

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Jamie Collins is all you want from your linebackers. He is physical, well-rounded and has impressive athleticism to go along with great instincts. In short: at just 26 years old, he is already among the game’s elite. Hopefully, he will be able to showcase his talents in every one of the Patriots’ 2016 games – and beyond.