The expectations have been high for Landon Collins his whole life. As a two-sport star at Dutchtown High in Louisiana, he was a USA Today All-American and the world was his oyster. By the time he was a junior, he had almost every major college football program vying for his letter of intent. He narrowed those choices down to LSU and Alabama, finally deciding on the latter.
At Alabama, Collins became a starter at safety in his sophomore season, where he amassed 70 tackles and two interceptions in the Crimson Tide’s run for the national championship. In his junior season, Collins excelled, becoming a unanimous All-American, and decided to forego his senior season for the NFL Draft.
His aspirations of stardom took a big hit at the 2015 NFL Draft, however. He was rated by many pundits as the top safety in the class and was invited to attend the draft in Chicago by the league since he was a surefire first round pick.
His visions of donning a team’s draft cap and jersey while hugging it out with Commissioner Roger Goodell evaporated quickly as team after team passed on him. After going undrafted in the first round, he decided to go back to Louisiana rather than stick around.
Little did he know, the New York Giants and their GM Jerry Reese had their eye on him. They got a deal done with the Tennessee Titans, who had the 33rd overall pick, which was the first selection in the second round the next night. Had he stayed, Collins would have realized his dream, but chose to be with his family instead.
As a rookie in New York, Collins started every game. That was the good part. The bad part was that the Giants’ defense was shattered by injuries and Collins was left hung out to dry in what would become one of the worst pass defenses in league history.
“There was pressure from the team on me to take over the back end [of the secondary], but I didn’t have any old heads [veterans] that could coach me up on the field and teach me about the quarterbacks,” Collins told The Post this week. “I was out there on the field trying to figure it out. I basically felt like I was on my own.”
2016 would be a different story. Collins blossomed into one of the league’s best safeties in his second season. Once labeled a “box” safety, he made plays all over the field and was named a first team All-Pro setting some impressive records along the way:
He has started every game since the Giants traded up to select him in the 2015 NFL Draft, led the team in tackles for the second consecutive season, with 125 (100 solo), the most by a safety in Giants’ history. He also had five interceptions, four sacks, and 13 passes defensed.
He ended the season as the only player in NFL history to have 100 or more solo tackles, and at least 2.0 sacks, five interceptions, and 12 passes defensed. He was also the first NFL safety with 100 or more tackles, at least five interceptions, and at least 3.0 sacks since Rodney Harrison in 2000.
Collins was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week Award for his performances in Week 7 against the Rams in London and then in Week 9 against the Eagles after the Giants’ bye. He was the first Giants player to be named NFC Defensive Player of Week in consecutive games,
At the time, Collins was the only NFL player to lead his team in tackles, sacks and interceptions and was the first Giants player with at least four interceptions and three sacks in the same season since Jason Sehorn in 1996.
His historic season continued to roll in the playoffs. Collins had nine tackles (six solo), including a sack in the Giants’ disappointing loss in Green Bay in the NFC Wild Card Game on January 8.
Teams now go to the draft looking for the next Landon Collins. Take the Jets, who took safeties with their first two picks in this year’s NFL Draft – LSU’s Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye of Florida. Collins equated his experience with what these two former SEC stars might be facing this year.
“As a rookie, you’ve got to try and get the knowledge of the game down as quickly as you can,” Collins told The Post.“Once you know that you can start looking at different parts of the game and it just happens for you, because you can play fast. My first year, we weren’t that strong on the D-line and didn’t get JPP [Jason Pierre-Paul] until late in the year to give us some pass rush.”
“It’s the same for [Adams and Maye],” he said. “I don’t know if their D-line is that strong since we took Snacks [Damon Harrison] from them. I don’t know how strong their linebackers and corners are, so they’re going to have nobody on the field that can coach them up. They’ve got to buy into the coaching staff and learn the defense as fast as they can. The quicker you know the defense the easier it is.”
The Jets are in transition, and if either one of these draftees turns into what Collins has turned into for the Giants, their defense will be on it’s way.