Atlanta Falcons 2015 Rookie Scouting Report: Jalen Collins

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY SportsJalen Collins at LSU
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

LSU CB Jalen Collins

Here’s a breakdown of the Atlanta Falcons’ 2015 second-round pick: LSU cornerback Jalen Collins.

BIO & VITALS

Height: 6’1″
Weight: 203
College: LSU
40 Time: 4.48
3-Cone: 6.77

Jalen Carnell Collins was born on March 20, 1993 in Kansas City, Missouri, but went to Olive Branch (MS) High. He spent three years at LSU, predominantly as a backup, before entering the 2015 NFL Draft as an underclassman.

Collins started a total of 10 career games, while appearing in all 39 over three years at LSU. Most of his starts came as a junior, where he earned seven starts, mostly as a replacement for suspended starter Rashard Robinson. He had his best season with the increased playing time, totaling career-highs in tackles (38), tackles for loss (three) and pass breakups (nine). His latter mark led the team. He also added an interception as a junior. His two previous years, Collins combined for 52 tackles, eight pass breakups and a pair of interceptions.

He was limited this past spring due to a stress fracture discovered during the Combine medical testing in his right foot. But he did manage to run a fast 40 (4.48 seconds) on the injury. There were numerous games throughout the 2014 season where Collins was nicked up and had to leave the game early.

2014 GAMES WATCHED

DateOpponentTgtRec.YdsYACTDINTUCPDStfTFLMTKBdPenType
Aug 30vs Wisconsin21130000110000--
Sep 20MISS STATE1000000100000--
Oct 11at Florida1000000100001DPI
Oct 25OLE MISS41170001300000--
Nov 8ALABAMA1145836003110100--
Nov 27at Texas A&M6135011201000--
Dec 30vs Notre Dame645419000001110--
TOTALS7 gms311114560015922211N/A
UC = Uncatchable pass

SKILLS

The grading system is based on a 10-point scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite.

Speed (8.0) – He can be challenged deep, but that has more to do with him not coming out of his breaks as quickly as desired. Has very good makeup speed to run with receivers on the deep ball, and shouldn’t have trouble covering vertical threats. Shows good burst and straight-line speed when he’s playing in zone and closes quickly on the ball.

Man Coverage (7.0) – Does a good job in man coverage, especially when he’s allowed to play press. At times opens his hips too early and can be beaten off the line. But he has the quick, smooth feet to recover a lot of times with smooth hips and good change-of-direction abilities. At times gives up too much cushion, especially when working in off coverage and tended to have most of his problems with defending slants and in-breaking routes.

Zone Coverage (6.5) – Shows discipline in zone and does a nice job when he’s able to keep things in front of him. Will give up the underneath catch but generally does a good job closing on the ball and minimizing yards after contact. Does a good job reading the quarterback when he’s able to keep his eyes in the backfield and rarely out of position.

Tackling (7.0) – Generally does a good job breaking down and wrapping up the ballcarrier. Doesn’t have a lot of pop as a tackler and tends to try and drag-down receivers and ball-carriers, but it usually works. Willing to lower shoulder and never shies away from contact. Will take a bad angle from time to time after the catch or when working on the edge, resulting in a missed stop. Is consistently willing to play his run assignments. Not great in run support, but is far better than most corners in today’s day and age. Collins shows off his skills in run support against Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon:

Ball Skills (6.5) – Doesn’t have great hands and thus won’t be a guy that intercepts a lot of passes. But generally, he does a good job playing the ball in the air. Turns and locates on the deep pass and has a tendency to break up multiple passes. His long arms allow him to swat down a lot more passes than most. Doesn’t always turn and locate the ball in the air, which will get him in trouble sometime, but those times are far outweighed by the moments when he does display good NFL-caliber ball skills. Collins’ ball skills in action against Alabama:

GRADE
This is based off my own grading system on a 9-point scale.

Impact Prospect (6.9) – Player with the potential to develop into a quality starter, but may not impact on a consistent basis. They will be among the better players for their respective team on either side of the ball, but miss one key element that prevents them from reliably dominating competition most weeks. Towards the upper end of this tier, may be a player that has upside to be among the best players in the league, but is so raw or unpolished that he should be considered a role player early on. The lower end of this team often features players that lack elite upside, but have relatively high floors. Typically players that you will target in the first round, but preferably in the latter half of it.

NFL FORECAST

Collins basically has all the tools you’re looking for in an NFL cornerback, just lacks the polish and ideal experience. He projects best as a press man corner at the next level, able to match up with the bigger outside receivers.

It’s somewhat a testament to the talent level of the LSU secondary that a player with Collins’ skill level was able to spend the bulk of the past three years riding the bench. While he got work in games, he was mostly reduced to a part-time player except the few instances over the years where starters were injured or suspended. Collins seemed to take advantage of those opportunities when he could and always stood out in games, thanks in part to his tendency to break up passes.

He has the natural athleticism: quick feet, smooth hips coupled with his good size and length to match up with the top NFL receivers, but still needs more polish. He’ll need to work on some things, but there’s nothing that is obviously lacking to his game.

In the right scheme, i.e. one which features a lot of press coverage, he could be able to contribute immediately as a starter, but he’d probably be better suited playing as an outside nickel cornerback. While his play on the field suggests that he is far more capable, it is a slight concern that he did not land a starting spot through his first three years at LSU. Again, that’s a testament to the depth of talent that LSU has. I’ve maintained for the past five years that there’s no team that “looks better walking off the bus” than LSU in terms of pure, athletic specimens at that program.

But the lack of experience likely indicates that Collins may not hit the ground running at the next level, and might take a year or two to adjust to playing at the high level of consistency needed to maintain a starting position. But even so, Collins should be able to contribute in the nickel for an NFL team until he’s ready.

His abilities in run support and the fact that he also was a regular contributor on special teams means that he can quickly add value off the bench even if he’s reduced to a backup role at the start of his NFL career.

Really, my only major concern about Collins is his durability. There were too many games last year where I saw him get nicked up, whether injuring a knee or a wrist while trying to make a stop. Throw in the foot injury that was discovered at the Combine, there is the possibility that he’s not built to take the punishment of the NFL, especially given that his physical playing style.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Jalen Collins

Ultimately, only time will tell if that is the case. But if there’s a chance we’re looking back on Collins’ career five years down the road and are disappointed, I’d wager it’d be because of injuries not because he simply wasn’t good enough.

FALCONS FORECAST

Collins is an ideal fit for Dan Quinn’s defensive scheme, which will utilize a lot of press coverage and a steady mix of both man and zone. At LSU, Collins has experience playing some Cover-3 looks that the Falcons will utilize often and should have little issue making that adjustment.

The only concern about Collins’ transition to the next level, as mentioned above, is that he may not be quite prepared for the level of work required in practice to be a consistent NFL starter right off the bat. His former coach at LSU, Les Miles indicated that his practice habits might have been limiting his rise on the depth chart last summer:

“How he performed for us in and around the practice field was not as good early last year. But when given the opportunity to take the field as a starter against Wisconsin, and then the next series of games, he played extremely well. I just think he kind of put himself in position mentally to do that.”

Basically, the skinny on Collins is that he’s a “gamer,” and his tape seemed to back that up. His foot injury that has kept him sidelined for OTAs, also will likely limit how fast a start he will have in Atlanta.

More than likely, Collins will be utilized as a nickel cornerback and play on the outside. While he has some experience playing the slot during his days at LSU, he doesn’t quite have the skill set to suggest that he’d ideally be a full-time slot. Instead, the Falcons will likely bump either starter: Robert Alford or Desmond Trufant inside to the slot in the nickel with Collins filling the outside spot. My best guess is that Trufant is the better suited of the duo to perform that role, and Collins can come in and play some left cornerback, which was his primary position at LSU last season.

More than likely, Collins will be utilized as a nickel cornerback and play on the outside. While he has some experience playing the slot during his days at LSU, he doesn’t quite have the skill set to suggest that he’d ideally be a full-time slot. Instead, the Falcons will likely bump either starter: Robert Alford or Desmond Trufant inside to the slot in the nickel with Collins filling the outside spot. My best guess is that Trufant is the better suited of the duo to perform that role, and Collins can come in and play some left cornerback, which was his primary position at LSU.

If Collins shows no improvement from here on out, then he’s probably still going to be an effective nickel cornerback that is able to be productive due to his athletic tools and size. The receiver that gave him the most trouble last year was Alabama’s Amari Cooper, who beat him a couple of times on some quick slants. Lining up against quicker receivers and trying to defend in-breaking routes tended to give Collins the most trouble. He also wasn’t great in off coverage, which often negated his greatest strength: his size and physicality at the line of scrimmage.

The positive is that there won’t be many instances where Collins will be asked to play in off coverage in Atlanta. As for the in-breaking routes, those can be problematic. They have been for Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman over the years, who Collins can draw favorable comparisons to.

Sherman only spent two years playing cornerback at Stanford, and I’d certainly claim that Collins looked better this past year at LSU than Sherman did his final year at Stanford. So for that reason, there is valid possibility that Collins’ upside is tremendous, particularly in Quinn’s scheme.

He certainly has the tools to be a No. 1 cornerback, but that is a lofty expectation for any cornerback. But given the presence of Trufant already on the roster, Collins is more likely to turn into the Falcons’ No. 2 guy. If Trufant continues to play at a high level and Collins lives up to his potential, the Falcons could sport one of the league’s best pair of starting cornerbacks.

It’s likely that Collins will take over for Robert Alford eventually as a starter. Alford has two years left on his rookie contract and will be 28 by the time it is up. Within that time frame, it’s likely that the Falcons will have already decided to pay a market-level contract to Trufant, making it less likely that the Falcons will be able to do the same for Alford. By the time Alford becomes a free agent, Collins will be approaching his 24th birthday, meaning that the Falcons should already have a younger, cheaper (and possibly better) option available to replace him.

In the meantime, Alford’s presence means that Collins doesn’t have to hit the ground running and can develop at his own pace. If he serves just as the Falcons’ nickel cornerback over the next two seasons, that’s fine assuming Alford and Trufant are playing at a high level as starters. If Collins has a good rookie season or there are any troubles from Alford, then he should be a strong candidate to compete and win a starting spot as early as 2016.

Collins has a bright future, and it’s hard for me to not see him being a quality starter in Atlanta eventually. When that happens is the only real question mark. Perhaps it’s as a rookie, or as late as his third year. But eventually, I’m optimistic that at worst, Collins will be an above average starter in Atlanta because his sklllset and physical traits are tailor-made for Quinn’s defensive scheme. I think if Collins shows little to no improvement from here on out, he’ll at least be as capable a starter in Atlanta as Brandon Browner was in Seattle. Browner, even at his worst, was always an above-average starter in Seattle, thanks to the scheme hiding some of his flaws like his lack of smooth hips and ideal quickness. However, Collins does possess those traits and thus why he should be better than Brown.

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Aqib Talib in 2013

I’ve heard others say that Collins is arguably the most talented cornerback from the 2015 class and it’s a statement that I find difficult to refute. Given the marriage of the perfect scheme for him, the sky is truly the limit for Collins and there’s a realistic possibility that a few years down the road, we’ll be considering him to best cornerback on the roster.

It’s probably not fair to Collins to make comparisons to Sherman due to the fact that Sherman is widely hailed as the best cornerback in the league. Perhaps a better comparison that doesn’t put those sort of expectations on him is Aqib Talib. Basically, if looking at the player that Talib has been over the years when he’s played his best football, Collins can be on that level. Talib’s “A game” is on par with any cornerback in the league, but he doesn’t do it consistently enough to get inserted into the conversation as one of the best in the league.

One other notable difference between Sherman, Talib and Collins is that the former two have much better hands and thus get a lot more interceptions than Collins. Collins dropped several interceptions in the games I saws last year, which makes him potentially an interesting pairing with Trufant, who also has a tendency to drop picks.

The Falcons may wind up with the league’s two best cover corners, but unfortunately they may not be as heralded as others because they don’t create a ton of turnovers. But like Trufant, Collins is likely to have a relatively high number of pass breakups to balance things.

About the Author

Aaron Freeman
Founder of FalcFans.com