The New England Patriots, who will be off until training camp starts later this month, currently have 89 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with one New England’s offseason acquisitions.
Name: Jamie Collins Sr.
Jersey number: TBD (offseason #8)
Opening day age: 29
Size: 6’3, 255 lbs.
2018 review: After being limited to just six games in 2017 because of injuries (concussion, torn MCL), Jamie Collins was able to bounce back last year — at least somewhat: while he was one of the statistical leaders of the Cleveland Browns’ defense and appeared in all sixteen of their games, Collins continued to display the same inconsistencies that made the Patriots trade him to the Browns midway through the 2016 season in the first place.
All in all, the former second-round draft pick was Cleveland’s number one linebacker in 2018 in terms of playing time: he was on the field for 1,067 of a possible 1,177 defensive snaps (90.7%). Collins also led the unit and the entire team in tackles (104), while showing off his versatility on a regular basis as he lined up both as a classic strong side linebacker in the box and on the line of scrimmage as an edge defender.
Furthermore, the Browns used him in coverage, as a pass rusher and as a run defender — he was a true three-down linebacker in the team’s scheme and no matter what the situation called for, the coaching staff trusted him. Collins repaid the trust that was placed in him in rather inconsistent fashion as a look at some of his numbers shows. Take tackles, for example: he did lead the Browns in takedowns but also missed 20 tackle attempts.
In coverage, he did not surrender a touchdown while registering an interception and two pass-breakups. However, Collins also allowed 87.9% of passes thrown his way to be completed (51 of 58) for a combined 498 yards. As a pass rusher, he registered 4.0 sacks, 3 quarterback hits, and 8 hurries, but did have trouble disengaging from blockers at times. He did play special teams — 47 of 465 snaps (10.1%) — but did not have much of an impact.
All in all, 2018 was a typical Jamie Collins season: his discipline, tackling, and ability to disengage from offensive linemen were legitimate concerns. On the other hand, however, he still displayed tremendous athleticism, speed and an ability to cover in space. Ultimately, however, his inconsistency in combination with a $11.75 million salary cap hit in 2019 led the Browns to pull the plug on Collins’ tenure in Cleveland.
2019 preview: Following his release in early March, Collins remained on the open market for more than two months until the Patriots picked him up in mid-May. The team that drafted him 52nd overall back in 2013 signed the former Pro Bowler to a one-year contract that will hit its salary cap with $3.0 million this season. The deal’s limited guarantees — ‘only’ $250,000 — however, show that Collins is no lock to make the team.
That being said, he does appear to have very good odds based on his experience in the system, early practice performances and athletic upside — and projected role on the defense: Collins no longer needs to be ‘the man’ alongside defensive on-field signal caller Dont’a Hightower. Instead, he is one of many options on a rather deep linebacker group also consisting of Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Elandon Roberts.
This, in turn, might allow the team to use Collins in a more specific role tailored to his strengths and skills. Considering his abilities when it comes to rushing the passer and operating in space, the Patriots could opt to employ him as more of a passing-down specialist as opposed to a three-down linebacker: playing on the weak side of the formation again and off the line of scrimmage, while also attacking downhill as a pass rusher.
Using Collins in such a simplified way might take some pressure off him and return him to the player he was before 2016: a versatile playmaker that is still capable of covering most running backs and tight ends man-to-man, has great range to play in zone schemes, and will bring the heat if he is allowed to. Don’t be surprised if Collins plays a considerable but more rotational role for the Patriots this year.