After passing on their first-round pick on Thursday in favor of better value later on Days 2 and 3, the Patriots made a splash with their first pick of this year’s draft.
Collins was a productive and versatile player in his career at Southern Mississippi, playing a primary role at all three defensive levels. He started his career at safety as a freshman but quickly moved to linebacker during his sophomore season. Then, after two productive seasons up on his feet, including 174 tackles and nine sacks, Collins moved down yet again. This time to defensive end.
Bill Belichick saw that versatility and was immediately intrigued, even comparing Collins to Patriots starting linebacker and 2012 first-round pick Dont’a Hightower.
“Sure, if players can do that, great.,” Belichick noted. “It’s similar but I would say different than Hightower but there’s some similarities. Dont’a did that as well – played inside, played outside, played defensive end in their nickel package at Alabama last year. Jamie did that more by season than Dont’a did.”
Collins actually adjusted quite well to the shift, too, compiling 92 tackles and a career-high 10 sacks as a senior. He even says he took a great deal of pleasure in frustrating opposing quarterbacks.
“I played true defensive end my senior [year],” Collins said. “It was my first year playing [that position] and it felt good to get sacks – I never thought sacking the quarterback would feel so good. It just gives you a chance to cause the play.”
The move proved to be a success on the stat sheet, but that was at the collegiate level. His 6-foot-3, 250-pound frame seems to indicate he’ll be back upright and on two feet when taking the field with the Patriots — and his athleticism would back that up.
At the NFL combine, Collins ran a blazing 4.64-second 40-yard dash (fourth best among linebackers) and leaped an incredible 41.5 inches in the vertical jump (tops at the position). Those numbers are enticing enough, but paired with the Patriots’ need for a pass rusher and coverage linebacker and he just makes too much sense.
Incumbent starter Brandon Spikes is entering the final season of his contract, which may have been in play here. Spikes really came into his own during the 2012 season, establishing himself as a premier run defender. But he does have deficiencies on passing plays, and the Patriots may see Collins’ versatility as a better option with the pass-heavy direction of the league.
Whatever they do have planned for him, Collins will welcome with open arms. But you can be sure he won’t fall victim to the hype. He summed up his approach to this new endeavor in the same way he approaches his favorite hobby.
“I think I’m pretty good. I don’t like to brag,” Collins said softly of his fishing ability. “I just like to show and go out and prove.”
With that sort of attitude, it’s no wonder the Patriots were so keen to reel him in.