Jalen Collins, the physical cornerback out of LSU, was selected with the 42nd overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. He stands at 6’2 and weighs in at just under 200 pounds, making him a great specimen as a larger cornerback that Dan Quinn seemingly prefers.
In 2015, the young defensive back played in all sixteen games, but only started in two. He made little concrete impact, with only 11 tackles and no interceptions or pass defenses recorded. However, his athletic tools and lofty potential had fans and analysts high on him for the following season.
But Collins couldn’t keep himself out of controversy before the 2016 season began. He was suspended for four games on September 3, 2016 for a violation of the NFL Substance Abuse Policy. This brought to question the young player’s work ethic and commitment to the team. After all, if someone is knowingly taking PEDs with the season is fast approaching, are they really taking their job seriously?
The combination of his weak stat sheet and suspension left Collins subject to criticism, but the Falcons would need him to step up soon. He returned to the field in Week 7, in which the Falcons lost to the Chargers and Collins started but recorded no measurable statistics. After a bye week, the Falcons traveled to Tampa Bay. The high power Atlanta offense blew the doors off the Tampa Bay defense, but in the midst of all the scoring, star cornerback and 2015 Pro-Bowler Desmond Trufant went down. It was later revealed that Trufant would be out for the remainder of the season.
With fans calling for his head, it was time for Collins to show his worth. He would continue to start for the remaining six games of the regular season, and do his best to fill the hole left by the injury of Trufant. In those six games, Collins would fill up his stat sheet with 26 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 9 passes defended. He wasn’t a lockdown corner like Richard Sherman, but he made an impact on the field and helped the Falcons win games in the final stretch of the regular season.
Collins made perhaps his biggest play in the NFL in the NFC Championship. The Falcons were up 10-0 in the first quarter, but the Packers were driving and looking to get on the scoreboard. Aaron Rodgers handed the ball off to Ripkowski, and the fullback barrelled through the defensive line heading towards the endzone. However, Collins flew in out of nowhere and ripped the ball from Ripkowski. The pigskin bounced to the turf, and Collins pounced on it in the endzone, giving the Falcons the ball back on their own 20 yard line. This play stalled a hot Green Bay offense and gave Atlanta the opportunity to continue to run up the score.
So now Falcons fans don’t know how to feel about Collins. He showed his lack of effort in his suspension, but he delivered when called upon and helped the Falcons in their memorable season.
Ultimately, Collins needs to show his value in 2017. He should win fans over by showing dedication in results on the field and good conduct off the field. If he can tap into his high potential, then maybe the Falcons have a young star in the making.