When the Seattle Seahawks selected running back Alex Collins on day-three of this past year’s NFL Draft, I was thrilled. He was as consistent as any runner in the country during his three years at Arkansas, tallying three straight 1,000-yard seasons. While watching running backs during the pre-draft process, Collins was among the three players I identified as backs I would love for the Seahawks to add. And, after he was kept over preseason darling Troymaine Pope in late August, I wrote why I believed the team kept him over Pope, and why fans could have reason for optimism with Collins.
Through three months of the regular season, boy was I wrong. Collins looked hesitant when he had the ball in the backfield. He was (wrongly) confirming some scouts fears about his receiving ability by dropping passes. Although he never was a part of the passing game in college, he looked to be a natural receiver of the ball when thrown at – something the team echoed this summer during training camp. His physical running style and receiving ability were not translating Sundays, and he was beginning to look more and more like a wasted draft pick. He was even eventually made inactive, with the team favoring Pope instead, who had returned after injuries hit.
Something has begun to click with Collins now though, late on in his rookie season. A small positive in Seattle’s two most recent losses has been his quiet emergence as a real option in the backfield. After averaging 1.9 yards per carry in his first eight games, Collins has improved with a bigger workload. His 14 carries in the past three games – he didn’t play a snap in Week 15 despite being active – is four more than his season total of 10 heading into Week 14. Over the past three games his yards per carry has nearly doubled, from 1.9 yards to 3.6 yards per carry. He’s also found himself involved in the passing game, with seven catches in the past three games after tallying just three receptions in the first eight games of his career.
It’s no secret that the Seahawks run game has struggled in 2016. The team’s leading rusher is still Christine Michael, who was released on November 15th. Michael, who once looked like he was gashing defenses on the way to a big pay day this summer, regressed to the point of being released from a running back-needy team. Thomas Rawls has never looked 100-percent this season, save for a dominant game against the Carolina Panthers – a game he left with a concussion. C.J. Prosise appeared to be the spark-plug gadget player Seattle thought they were getting when they drafted him, until a shoulder injury ended his regular season.
After Rawls again left a game through injury this past Sunday, the Seahawks rolled with Collins and had their most success running the ball. And although at this point it appears Seattle’s offensive line play is simply too inept to get a positive run game going, Collins could be the healthy breath of fresh air that the Seahawks offense has been gasping for.
The immediate contact Rawls has been getting since re-taking the starting spot has clearly taken a toll on his health – look no further than the LA Rams Thursday Night Football visit to CenturyLink Field, where Rawls had -10 yards before contact. Between his shoulder, his leg, and probably his psyche, Rawls cannot and has not been attacking the line of scrimmage with the same intensity we’ve become accustomed to. Though no fault of his own, it has left the Seahawks with a remedial running game in recent weeks.
On his first run of the game against the Arizona Cardinals, Collins flashed everything the run game has been missing:
George Fant and Mark Glowinski both do a great job sealing off the backside, and Collins hits the line of scrimmage at full speed, breaking the tackle of Cardinals linebacker Markus Golden, reaching the second level at full-tilt. Given time to hit his stride, Collins extended the run by several yards after second contact - something Rawls was very rarely afforded to do in 2016.
On the same drive, once again Collins busts off an impressive six-yard gain, aided by the offensive line doing a good job blocking down, and Germain Ifedi even chipping in with a nice combo block. Collins wasn’t asked to do much on this run, but the burst he showed I would argue is as quick as any ‘back has looked for Seattle this year:
The league’s most dominant running team since Russell Wilson entered the NFL in 2012, it now seems as though Seattle’s third or fourth most talented running back is also their best option moving forward in these next however-many games.
It's entirely possible that we won’t ever see a 100-percent healthy Thomas Rawls in 2016, just like it’s entirely possible that injuries will just be part of the equation with Rawls moving forward. His running style and an offensive line that could make Swiss cheese blush isn’t exactly conducive to a clean bill of health, and through two seasons it has cost Rawls greatly. Luckily, the Seahawks will have an entire offseason to make other arrangements at the tailback spot, and just as luckily it appears as though Seattle has found an acceptable answer in the meantime in Alex Collins.