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Alex Collins may not have been the answer to Seahawks running back woes

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Many Seattle Seahawks fans this season have watched Alex Collins have a quality season for the Baltimore Ravens — 895 rushing yards, five touchdowns, 4.7 yards per carry — and been upset that he got away after being waived at final roster cuts. Others claim that Collins’ release was a product of a poor offensive line in Seattle, and that regardless of him clearing waivers after being cut by the Seahawks, he didn’t stand a chance as a result of his lack of explosiveness and his weight relative to other past Pete Carroll running backs.

Well, during training camp in 2017 one thing was instantly apparent regarding the weight of Collins, as Bob Condotta pointed out in mid-August.

However, one other item was also readily apparent regarding Alex Collins in his second training camp with the team, as he had a fumble on just 28 touches.

That statline is not surprising, given the following from his 2016 draft profile (emphasis is mine):


One speed runner. Doesn't play with natural one-­cut stride length and everything comes off stutter-stepping, choppy strides. Feel for outside runs is off. Breaks runs back inside prematurely that still have life along their original track. Can't generate enough momentum through contact acceleration to be a tackle breaker. Credited with just five broken tackles over his last 475 carries. Unproven as pass catcher and inconsistent in squaring up his pass protection responsibilities. Has 17 career fumbles with nine lost.

Moving from his college scouting report to his rookie year with the Seahawks, Collins tied for the team lead in fumbles, but at a higher rate than any other player on the team.

Seattle Seahawks 2016 Fumbles

Player Fumbles Touches
Player Fumbles Touches
Alex Collins 2 42
Jimmy Graham 2 66
Christine Michael 2 137
Doug Baldwin 1 97
C.J. Spiller 1 10

So, when he showed up for training camp having apparently failed to fix that issue, the team had seen enough. The Ravens were reportedly working with Collins on fixing his issue after the problem arose this season, and as noted in this article it is simply a matter of needing to fix how he carries the football. Unfortunately for Collins, as the season has worn on he seems to have regressed; Collins had 21 touches against the Colts on Saturday and fumbled once, while only gaining 66 yards. Collins now has five fumbles on the season and over his last seven games is averaging only 3.7 YPC.

To toot my own horn a little bit,

This is likely why the Seahawks decided to move on. Ball security for running backs is rather simple, and several backs have overcome early career fumbling issues to go on to have success. Tiki Barber is a fantastic example of this, as here is a table of Barber’s career fumble issues.

Tiki Barber Career Fumbles

Year Rush Rec Fmb Fumble/Touch
Year Rush Rec Fmb Fumble/Touch
1997 136 34 3 56.7
1998 52 42 1 94.0
1999 62 66 5 25.6
2000 213 70 9 31.4
2001 166 72 8 29.8
2002 304 69 9 41.4
2003 278 69 9 38.6
2004 322 52 5 74.8
2005 357 54 1 411.0
2006 327 58 3 128.3

Looking at those numbers, it’s not difficult to tell that Tom Coughlin took over the New York Giants in 2004. After averaging 8.75 fumbles per season in the four years before Coughlin arrived, Barber fumbled just nine times over the course of three seasons including just four fumbles over the final two seasons of his career.

So what did Barber do to stop fumbling? He started carrying the ball properly. In order to prevent a ball from being knocked out by a defender’s helmet or shoulder pad, the ball carrier’s index finger should be on the point, with the ball tucked into the armpit and the point at the corner of the shoulder pads. This places the ball in such a position that even a direct hit from a defender’s helmet or shoulder pad from the outside should either push the ball further into the armpit, and the ball is nearly unreachable on a hit coming across the ball carrier’s body. It is also extremely difficult for a defender to get their hand into the armpit space in order to wrench the ball out, and very easy for a runner to cover the ball with their free arm to make it nearly impossible to get out.

Here are a few examples of Collins exercising proper ball security.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Good ball security: Index finger on the point of the football and the ball carried high in the outside hand.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
NFL: Detroit Lions at Baltimore Ravens
Good ball security
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
NFL: Detroit Lions at Baltimore Ravens
More good ball security
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
NFL: Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens
Collins practicing ball security prior to the game against the Houston Texans Thanksgiving weekend
Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

So Collins obviously knows how to properly carry the football, but here are some pictures of Collins not exercising proper ball security.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Tuck that ball in, Alex.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Green Bay Packers
That ball is too far away from his body.
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans
If there is visible daylight, there’s room for a defender to get their hand in and rip it out.
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

And for a perfect example why players need to keep the ball tucked, here is a two picture sequence that really needs no explanation, but I’m going to provide some anyway. In the first image Collins is seen carrying the football low and away from his body.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens
That is horrible, horrible form carrying the football
Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

In the next image in the sequence we see that ninth year pro Jason McCourty (Cleveland Browns player wearing number 30) has made a heady play and simply punched the ball out, recording the seventh forced fumble of his career.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens
Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

Now, let’s take a look at how Collins carried the ball with the Seahawks.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks
Everyone who ever played football at any level is likely yelling, “Quit carrying the ball like a loaf of bread!”
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

That picture is from the victory over the Atlanta Falcons in October 2016, and here are a couple more pictures from 2016. In this first picture from the finale against the San Francisco 49ers, Collins is carrying the ball high with his index finger on the point, but his elbow is way outside. For proper form he should tuck his elbow lower so that the ball is not susceptible to a punch from the top.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
Tuck that elbow, Alex.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In the next image, from the 2017 preseason, Collins is seen carrying the football high with his index finger on the point, but his elbow is away from his body. With his elbow that far away from his body, there is plenty of room for a defender to come in and slide their arm inside and work to rip the ball out.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Curious to know just how prolific Collins’ fumbling is, I did a quick search on Pro Football Reference using their player season finder to find the 2017 NFL fumble leaders of all players with 100 or more touches this seasons. Then, dividing touches by fumbles, I came up with a list of the NFL players most likely to fumble based on their performance so far this season.

Fumble rates for all RBs, WRs and TEs with 100 or more 2017 touches

Player Fumbles Touches Touches per Fumble
Player Fumbles Touches Touches per Fumble
Jalen Richard 6 106 17.7
Antonio Brown 4 112 28.0
Jarvis Landry 3 111 37.0
Chris Thompson 3 111 37.0
Duke Johnson 3 136 45.3
Alex Collins 4 215 53.8
Tyreek Hill 2 109 54.5
Adrian Peterson 3 167 55.7
Wayne Gallman 2 114 57.0
Tarik Cohen 3 175 58.3
Todd Gurley 5 311 62.2
Jonathan Stewart 3 198 66.0
Devonta Freeman 3 199 66.3
Chris Ivory 2 133 66.5
Jerick McKinnon 3 201 67.0
Kenyan Drake 2 142 71.0
Mark Ingram 3 255 85.0
Frank Gore 3 263 87.7
Ameer Abdullah 2 176 88.0
Joe Mixon 2 184 92.0
Christian McCaffrey 2 200 100.0
LeSean McCoy 3 311 103.7
Jay Ajayi 2 216 108.0
Le'Veon Bell 3 387 129.0

And there it is: based on the numbers so far, Collins is one of the NFL players most likely to fumble this season. There are several players that are just behind him who could leapfrog him in this category with just a single fumble more, but regardless of this, his fumble rate is not great. For reference, Marshawn Lynch’s fumble rate in his career with the Seahawks was one fumble every 85 touches.

Thus, even knowing that he Pete Carroll preaches ball security and knowing that he had had an issue with ball security in college and as a rookie, Collins apparently didn’t take his ball security coaching to heart. Thus, it’s no surprise the team moved on from him at the end of training camp. Collins was given over a year by the team to fix this issue, but apparently even after being called out in the media by his head coach in Baltimore, Collins didn’t take to the training well enough to prevent the ball ending up on the ground.