Alex Collins leads the NFL in yards per carry after another stellar performance Thursday. So why'd the Seahawks cut him, anyway?
After his performance Thursday night — when he gained 113 yards on 18 carries in a 40-0 win over Miami — the emergence of Alex Collins with the Baltimore Ravens has begun to morph from small sample size to full-fledged trend.
Collins now has 478 yards on 80 carries for the Ravens, averaging 5.9 per attempt, the same 5.9 he was averaging coming into the game, which entering the weekend led the entire NFL.
All of which also led to a rising chorus of a question as the game wore on — why did the Seahawks cut Collins in the preseason, anyway?
Hindsight, of course, is 20-20.
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If the Seahawks had known Collins was going to do this they’d have undoubtedly found a way to keep him — and it’s worth remembering the Seahawks obviously thought enough of Collins in the first place to draft him in the fifth round in 2016.
It’s also worth remembering that there really wasn’t much of a protest lodged by anyone when Collins was waived in the cutdown to 53.
Collins, recall, barely made the team as a rookie in 2016, appearing to beat out free agent Troymaine Pope for the final tailback spot only after a good game in the preseason finale at Oakland (and the team seeming to really want to find a reason to keep him and not give up on a fifth-round pick that quickly).
Despite what then became a revolving door at tailback throughout the 2016 season Collins didn’t find his way onto the field much, getting 10 carries for 19 yards through the first 12 games.
Then, after the release of Christine Michael and another injury to C.J. Prosise, he got a few more snaps.
But at the end of his first extended playing time in a blowout loss at Green Bay he fumbled, perpetuating what was regarded as maybe the biggest question mark about him entering the NFL — ball security
Collins, in fact, had two fumbles in 42 touches in the regular season (he finished with 125 yards on 31 carries), which is not good in any setting but especially not with a team whose coach has a motto that “it’s all about the ball.’’
Collins, recall, also said later he bulked up entering his rookie season thinking he needed some extra weight to handle the physicality of the NFL. He spent much of the 2016 regular season losing enough weight to regain some of the quickness that had allowed him to become just one of three rushers in SEC history to rush for 1,000 or more yards in his first three seasons, the others being Herschel Walker and Darren McFadden.
Collins showed up to training camp for his second NFL season saying he felt much better physically after dropping from 217 pounds in 2016 to 204 in 2017.
“I just feel a lot more explosive,’’ Collins said in August. “I feel faster in my routes and I definitely feel like I can outrun a lot more people.’’
But one big thing then happened that made it more difficult for Collins to show that to the Seahawks as much as he hoped — Chris Carson.
Carson, taken in the seventh round in 2017, was the sensation of training camp, impressing from day one and moving quickly past Collins on the depth chart and pushing veterans Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy.
There was never any question about keeping Rawls and Lacy, of course, given what Rawls had done in 2015 and what Seattle had invested monetarily in Lacy. There was also no question about keeping Prosise, a third-round pick in 2016 who when healthy (granted, an increasingly big if) has a skill set that makes him uniquely valuable.
And obviously the Seahawks were keeping Carson.
That logically left one running back spot available as cutdown time neared.
Collins didn’t do much early to make much of a case that he deserved it. He had nine yards on six carries in the preseason opener against the Chargers. Then he had a fumble in the second game against the Vikings.
Then he didn’t have a single carry in the third preseason game, which seemed to signal he was a longshot to make the roster — in fact, rumors then surfaced that he was on the trading block (he had 89 yards on 22 carries for the preseason).
Another thing then happened that hurt Collins — the emergence of J.D. McKissic. McKissic was used in camp as both a receiver and then a running back and had some good preseason games. That he could also return — something the team thought it might need in reserve with Tyler Lockett coming off injury — was another plus.
By the final week it was pretty clear who were the five tailbacks Seattle was keeping — Lacy, Rawls, Prosise, Carson and McKissic.
Seattle waived Collins (who at that point probably was even behind Mike Davis on the depth chart, though Davis was also waived) with the hope of getting him back on the practice squad.
But Collins decided he wanted a fresh start, somewhere he felt he’d have a better shot to play, so he signed with Baltimore’s practice squad, instead (which in itself is revealing — no other team claimed Collins to put him on their 53-man roster, meaning no one else necessarily saw anything more from him at that point than Seattle did).
Collins got his shot on Baltimore’s 53-man roster in week two when Danny Woodhead was injured and went on Injured Reserve.
Collins has been productive from the start with the Ravens — he went 16 yards on his first carry.
But he also had fumbles in two of his first three games (each recovered by the opponent).
He’s calmed that down since — he hasn’t had a fumble in the last four games.
If he can hold onto the ball and still average almost six yards a carry then, yeah, the Seahawks will be left wondering what might have been.
Still, his success raises another question — would he have done this in Seattle?
If you read much into assessments of offensive line play, maybe not.
Pro Football Focus two weeks ago rated every offensive line in the NFL and had the Ravens fourth and Seattle 27th, writing of Baltimore that “the Ravens are having success running the ball, ranking fifth in the NFL with an average of 2.10 yards before contact on carries.’’
Maybe it’s as simple as that, running behind what by one objective measure is considered a much better offensive line (Baltimore is also known as a predominantly zone blocking team, as is Seattle, so it doesn’t appear to necessarily be a scheme thing that has Collins thriving in Baltimore as opposed to Seattle.)
Still, Collins also seems to be playing really well — PFF raved about his play against Miami Thursday noting that “nearly half of his yards came after first contact.”
Maybe the Seahawks were simply too soon for their own good to know what Collins could do.