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.
ICYMI, here's a look at the Seahawks TB competition. Of note, Alex Collins says he's down to 204 from 217 last year: https://t.co/ElfOz6Uvtj— Bob Condotta (@bcondotta) August 12, 2017
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 NFL.com 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
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,
Following that second quarter fumble, Alex Collins now has 4 fumbles this season on 200 touches (180 rushes, 20 receptions).— John Gilbert (@SeahawksMachine) December 23, 2017
All Seattle Seahawks RBs and WRs combined have 2 fumbles on 584 touches (276 rushes, 308 receptions).
Why he was released is not a state secret.
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
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.
So Collins obviously knows how to properly carry the football, but here are some pictures of Collins not exercising proper ball security.
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.
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.
Now, let’s take a look at how Collins carried the ball with the Seahawks.
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.
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.
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|
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.