When the Cleveland Browns released linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. in early March, the veteran linebacker produced little hype on the open market. Despite his experience and athletic skills, his inconsistent outing in 2018 led teams to take a cautious approach. This, in turn, allowed the New England Patriots to pick him up in mid-May: the team that drafted him 52nd overall back in 2013 signed him to a one-year, $3.0 million contract.
Four months later, the move looks like a steal: Collins has turned into a valuable member of the Patriots’ linebacker corps, and was on the field for 83 of a possible 131 defensive snaps (63.4%) over the first two games of the season. Not only that, but he has been consistently making plays — with Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins standing out as arguably one of the best performances of his career in the NFL.
Not only did he register a half-sack and a tackle for loss in the running game, the 29-year-old also finished with two interceptions: the first of which was returned 69 yards for a touchdown, the second preserved New England’s 43-0 shutdown. Needless to say that Collins’ second stint with the Patriots is off to a tremendous start — and it certainly sounds like head coach Bill Belichick sees it the same way.
“Jamie’s a very special player,” Belichick said during a conference call on Monday. “He’s very smart, instinctive. He’s got a great nose for the ball in the passing game and in the running game. He’s got the physical skills to play at the end of the line and off the line, to blitz, to play in coverage, play against the run and play against the pass. So we’re able to do different things with him and he’s been productive and effective in all of them.”
The Patriots always liked to use Collins all over the formation, even before sending him to Cleveland via trade midway through the 2016 season. His comeback campaign is therefore familiar terrain for the former second-round draft pick: lining up at inside and outside linebacker as well as on and off the line of scrimmage, he saw regular action as a pass rusher, run defender, and in coverage — generally performing well.
“It’s really exciting to have that type of player in your system, and to have players he can work with,” Belichick added when speaking about Collins’ impact on the Patriots’ 2019 defense. “They can do things that maybe you don’t normally or aren’t able to do because of some type of limitations, but he’s very smart and he understands things, and he a lot of times will recognize things before I do.”
“[He would] say ‘Hey, can I do this in this situation?,’ or “Hey, can I do this in that situation?’ That’s the kind of football thinker he is, so he’s brought a lot to us defensively in a lot of different areas. From first down to third down, to playing on the punt team, he’s added a lot to us,” Belichick continued. This praise heaped upon Collins is so far certainly justified: he has flourished in the rotational role the Patriots created for him.
All in all, Collins might very well be worthy of the title as New England’s comeback player of the year at this point in the season. Quite the development for a player that rejoined the Patriots with little actual expectations coming off two mostly disappointing years with the Browns.