The New England Patriots defense is much improved in both the pass rush and secondary, both of which have been on full display so far in the preseason.
But it’s no coincidence the return of Jamie Collins has brought about such an improvement.
After a couple seasons away from New England, the 2013 second-round pick out of Southern Mississippi has returned as if he’d never left. Though his time with the Patriots had a tumultuous element to it, he was productive in covering running backs in the passing game while applying pressure to the quarterback in the pass rush.
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He is fresh off his third 100-tackle season in his career and posted his highest sack total last season since his career-best 5.5 sacks in 2015. Considered the top linebacker in the AFC by Pro Football Focus, Collins is providing optimism his second stint in New England.
What exactly does Jamie Collins bring to the table that puts this defense over the top?
Collins, simply put, is one of the most dynamic players in the NFL. There was a reason he was called the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ in his first stint with the Patriots.
His story is rather remarkable as well.
He began his football career as a quarterback and won a Mississippi state championship as a sophomore. Choosing to stay close to home at Southern Miss instead of Auburn, where he made the transition to safety and eventually linebacker.
Despite his size of 255 pounds, Collins runs a 4.6-second 40-yard dash and has even faster closing speed. He can fit in as an edge rusher if needed and has been known to drop into coverage at times, almost like a safety.
If he plays on top of his game, Collins can be an All-Pro linebacker.
Covers the Running Back & Tight End
Perhaps his most impactful trait is his ability to cover the running back out of the backfield on passing routes. He’s even athletic enough to guard a tight end in man coverage.
You’ve got to figure that Collins will be extremely useful against an offense like Kansas City. His closing speed can help contain Patrick Mahomes, he provides an able body to cover Damien Williams out of the backfield and could even help contain Travis Kelce.
That’s just a small example for one team. His contributions will allow the Patriots secondary relief against some of its toughest targets. For years, the Patriots have struggled to control the running back on a wheel route while utilizing safeties like Patrick Chung to cover the tight end.
Now Jamie Collins will allow guys like Chung to lighten their workload.
Quickness in Pass Rush & Run Stopping
In his time with the Patriots, Collins amassed 10.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. When he rushes, he often requires a quarterback to scramble and roll out because of how quickly he can penetrate the backfield.
Even in running plays when Collins rushes, he can get to the running back before he hits a seem thanks to his reading ability, strength, and quick reaction time.
One way to use Collins is in the second wave of a blitz, a strategy he excelled in during the 2015 season. He could drop back if needed but stayed in the box before his lightning-quick speed allowed him to get to the quarterback so simply.