The college football bowl season is almost over, and on Saturday, January 2, in one of the final games of the postseason, we will see the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, featuring Kansas State (6-6) and Arkansas (7-5). Although the matchup doesn’t offer a wealth of intriguing draft-eligible player, one strong prospect who will be participating in the game is Arkansas junior running back Alex Collins.
Collins has been on the RotoViz radar for a while, and he is the No. 9 running back prospect in the 2016 RotoViz Scouting Index. In truth, he is a top-five running back prospect, but he is probably ranked lower since he’s a junior and thus uncertain to declare for the 2016 NFL Draft. If he declares — and I expect that he will, given that he has nothing more to prove as a college player — he will likely enter his pre-draft workouts as a player expected to be selected with a top-100 pick.
Collins is not an exceptional prospect in that he has never had a season that was truly elite. He is only the third running back from the Southeastern Conference (following Herschel Walker and Darren McFadden) to have 1,000 yards rushing in each of his first three college seasons — so he has been a consistently good and productive player for his entire career — but he has never had a season comparable to that of the other elite SEC running backs who enter the NFL on a seemingly yearly basis.
Of course, Collins’ production has been less impressive than it otherwise could be because until this season he has split carries with the very talented and equally productive redshirt junior Jonathan Williams, who suffered a foot injury before the season and missed all of what would’ve been his senior campaign. In the absence of his running mate, Collins has been the team’s 2015 workhorse, having the best season of his career.
Here are the numbers for Collins’ three collegiate seasons:
At first examination, those numbers look good — but his 2013-14 production is comparable (and actually inferior) to what Williams did over that same time:
In the exact same 25 games played at the same age, Williams touched the ball fewer times but had more yards and touchdowns and displayed more ability as a receiver. This isn’t to say that Collins is a bad player — in fact, Williams is also a strong draft prospect — but Collins seems like less of a stud when you see that he was outplayed for two seasons by another running back on his team.
And as good as Collins’ 2015 season has been, it doesn’t compare to what the SEC running backs with elite production have done in the last five years, especially as a receiver but even as a runner:
|2015||Leonard Fournette||Louisiana State||12||300||1953||22||19||253||1|
|2013||Jeremy Hill||Louisiana State||12||203||1401||16||18||181||0|
|2010||Marcus Lattimore||South Carolina||13||249||1197||17||29||412||2|
Was putting Dexter McCluster in the table a low blow? Once I saw his name in the annals of SEC studness, I realized that I should probably just stop adding players to the list.
Collins is very good, but compared to what these players did in the SEC as their teams’ lead runners Collins looks kind of “meh” — and that sounds like an insult but I don’t mean it that way. There’s nothing wrong with being a really good “meh” SEC runner.
But I do want to be clear about who Collins is and what his production means. If in the next five months you hear someone talk about his “elite” SEC production, know that, at Collins’ best, he was very good but not elite. As an SEC producer, he is more Zac Stacy and Josh Robinson than Derrick Henry and Todd Gurley.
The Physical Profile
Here come more inadvertently backhanded statements of praise: Just as Collins is an adequately “really productive player” he is also an adequately-sized “big-bodied runner.” Arkansas lists Collins at five feet 11 inches and 215 pounds. He is entirely big enough to be an NFL workhorse — but there is nothing elite about his size. He is by no means small. He is simply an average-sized “big-bodied runner.”
I have no idea if Collins is an elite athlete. According to some scouting services, he was the No. 1 running back recruit in the country when he entered college, so I assume that he at least has average athleticism.
What I can say unequivocally is that, with his size, Collins probably has the ability to be a good NFL player unless he is absolutely a horrid athlete.
Also, he has really cool dreadlocks.
Now that I’ve spent most of the profile saying some version of “this data point associated with Collins really isn’t anything special,” let me say this: Collins could be a very productive NFL player even though nothing about him is very spectacular.
At his best, he could be something similar to Marshawn Lynch — a guy who as a prospect didn’t have anything that really distinguished him but who was still a good football player.
In terms of SEC runners, you could think of him as Knowshon Moreno without the proven receiving skills. As a prospect, Moreno wasn’t known for being exceptional in any one given area, but he was still a first-round draft pick who had a decent career that could’ve been much better if not for injuries.
In his range of outcomes, Collins could have several top-10 running back seasons in the NFL. He could also merely have a couple of low-end RB2 campaigns.
Collins fits the profile of a runner who will have at least some success in the NFL. The extent of that success will probably be determined more by the circumstances surrounding him (à la Lynch) than by his own abilities.
Matthew Freedman is a football writer for RotoViz, Pro Football Focus Fantasy, Fantasy Insiders, and DraftKings Playbook. He is (not) the inspiration for the character in The League who shares his name. He hosts the various RotoViz podcasts and PFF Radio’s College Daily Slant. He is the creator of the Workhorse Metric. You can follow him on Twitter @MattFtheOracle — but I don’t know why you would.