There’s little doubt that the Detroit Lions’ biggest free agent signing this year was the acquisition of linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. Detroit’s linebacking corps has been subpar for years, and it’s likely a big reason why head coach Matt Patricia hasn’t been able to put together the defense he wants.
The question, simply, is how big of an addition was Collins? The last time he played outside of Foxborough, he struggled. But after coming back to the New England Patriots last year, he rebounded and became another efficient player on impressive New England’s impressive defense.
While it’s obviously concerning the Patriots let him go for a second time, NFL insiders believes the Lions got one of the best off-ball linebackers in the entire league. ESPN continued its rankings of every position based on polling NFL executives, coaches, coordinators and scouts, and Collins came in eighth on the list.
But one unnamed NFL coordinator ranked Collins second best in the league.
“He can cover running backs, good blitzer, lines up as edge rusher or off the ball,” the coordinator said. “Very instinctive, good football intelligence and makes plays.”
Not everyone was in agreement with Collins’ place on the top-10 list. According to the ESPN survey, he wasn’t on everyone’s ballot. However, this unnamed coordinator was certainly not alone in his ranking.
“There’s no one like him,” said an NFL offensive assistant coach. “If you use him to attack the underneath stuff and at the line of scrimmage like Bill [Belichick] did, he’s top five.”
Obviously, Patricia will have a pretty good idea of how he wants to use Collins, seeing as the two worked together for three-and-a-half years when Patricia was the defensive coordinator for the Patriots.
As for his failed stint with the Browns, many chalk that up as simply misusing Collins’ skills—far too often placing him on the edge rather than have him patrol the middle. Per PFF, the Browns put him on the edge for 31.8 percent of snaps, while he spent just 11.4 percent of his playing time there in New England. And that made opposing offensive coaches very happy.
“[That was] good for us, because the other stuff Jamie does is scary,” one coach said.
It remains to be seen exactly how the Lions will use Collins, especially considering their faith in interior linebackers Jarrad Davis, Jahlani Tavai, and even Christian Jones. However, given that Patricia comes from the Patriot tree, there’s a good chance Collins will be used where he’s most effective, and that could mean big things for the Lions’ linebacking unit in 2020.