In 2011 the New Orleans Saints traded up 28 spots with New England to select Mark Ingram with the 28th pick in the draft. The Patriots ended up selecting Shane Vereen in 2011 and used the acquired 2012 first-rounder to pluck Chandler Jones.
The Saints have finished below .500 in three of the five seasons since, coincidentally all three in which Ingram led the team in rushing.1 They also finished 31st, 31st, and 32nd in defense during those three losing seasons. For anyone who believes Ezekiel Elliott will help take pressure off of the Dallas defense, you probably need to hope he’s a lot better and/or different than Mark Ingram.
The Saints can trace their franchise decline directly to the 2011 draft.
Five years later, the Seattle Seahawks selected Alex Collins with the 171st pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. The two players look like almost the same person.
|Player||Weight||40||Vert||Career TD||Career Yards||Career Rec|
*Collins jumped 32.5 inches at his pro day, a result which would seem difficult to game.2
Collins’ 2015 even holds its own next to Ingram’s Heisman campaign.
The Seahawks had 10 picks in the 2016 NFL Draft, and this is consistently why they appear to be one of the best drafting teams. We can see the big difference in their tactics as compared to that of the Saints or the Cowboys. They selected Collins even though they’d used the No. 90 pick on C.J. Prosise and despite the fact that last year’s UDFA, Thomas Rawls, is coming off of a tremendous rookie campaign.
Instead of pushing all-in on a single pick, the Seahawks understand the value of risk diversification and general team depth. This big picture approach helps explain why the Seahawks are one of the NFL’s deepest teams while the Saints and Cowboys are among the thinnest.
Should We Be Happy if Collins Resembles Ingram?
Frequent readers will know that I’ve been a vocal critic of Ingram, questioning whether he possessed the athleticism to play in the NFL and asking whether we should be concerned that he was merely a product of Alabama’s dominance. I’ve recently reiterated that concern both as it applies to Derrick Henry, and, by extension, how it might apply to Elliott.
I think we should be concerned – Collins doesn’t fare well in Kevin Cole’s RB research which basically confirms my original Ingram skepticism – but within reason and with an eye to cost. Ingram was selected No. 1 overall in 2011 rookie drafts, and Collins wasn’t selected at all in the recent RotoViz three-round mock. He wasn’t mentioned in a recent FD article detailing how Prosise could quickly dispatch Rawls and Christine Michael and gets the just-a-guy treatment from Justin Winn in our message board discussion.
We should be skeptical, but we should also be interested. Because Alex Collins could be the next feature back for the Seahawks.
After all, he wasn’t always JAG. He was the No. 1-rated high school RB in the country when he chose Arkansas. And then he lit the world on fire from Day 1.
Just How Productive Was He?
According to Jon Moore’s always excellent research, Collins finished above the RB1 trend line in two of his three seasons and just missed in the other.
To put that in context, here are the RBs drafted in the RotoViz mock who never hit the RB1 trend line: Devontae Booker, Kenyan Drake, Prosise, Tyler Ervin, DeAndre Washington, Wendall Smallwood, Keith Marshall, Daniel Lasco, Josh Ferguson.3
Even taking into account Collins’ athleticism and relative lack of receiving production, he finishes with a 47 in the RB Prospect Lab. That leaves him in a tie with Paul Perkins and again pushes him ahead of backs like Drake, Washington, Marshall, Lasco, and Ferguson.
Just How Productive Part 2: Really, Really Productive
The NFL is trending toward committees with early down bruisers and pass-catching specialists. It’s not particularly good news for Collins that the pass-catchers have an easier path to fantasy value, but it probably renders his lack of receiving value less important for earning the Derrick Henry role in Seattle.
When we look at him purely as a runner, we see just how impressive that rushing production is.
This provides another window into why the Seahawks double-dipped on RBs. Todd Gurley, Trent Richardson, Ezekiel Elliott, and Cadillac Williams were selected in the first 10 picks of the entire draft. Laurence Maroney and Chris Perry also went in the first round.
Keep in mind that I’m not saying these are necessarily comparable players – most of them were better athletes – but simply that they had similar production.
The Seahawks Backfield Is Wide Open
I have a feeling Collins is now an afterthought because the Seattle backfield is crowded, but it’s also wide open. Thomas Rawls was an UDFA for a reason and has only a 147-carry NFL season to his resume. C.J. Prosise just transitioned to RB, didn’t actually catch that many passes in college for a guy who used to play WR,4 and has never had a high-carry season. Christine Michael has never been good at any level.
Let’s create a hydra from the rest of the competition using their best collegiate seasons and see how they compare to Collins.
|Carries||Yards||TDs||Rec||Rec Yds||Rec TD|
Collins saw more carries, gained more yards, and scored more touchdowns than our best case version of his competitors.5
How To Play It
It bothers me when players like Mark Ingram are praised as saviors when the evidence doesn’t back it, but it also bothers me when ridiculously productive players like Alex Collins are ignored.
Somewhere in between lies fair value. If you have no interest in Collins because an early-down timeshare back has a hard road to fantasy value, I can certainly understand that. But at the cost of a late third-round rookie pick – or even a fourth-rounder in drafts that go that deep – it seems like a no-brainer to roster a tremendous producer who’s only a Rawls injury away from being a poor man’s Marshawn Lynch.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention the thing about Collins and his place in history with Herschel Walker and Darren McFadden. It’s obviously just trivia, but still, kinda cool.
- They finished 13-3 and 11-5 during the two seasons Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas led the team. (back)
- In fact, I think if Collins had hit 30 inches at the Combine like Jamaal Charles, we might collectively see him differently. It’s hard for our minds to ignore thresholds, even if it results in a skewing of the information. (back)
- I haven’t reposted the rest of the graphs from that article because you should read it directly from Jon. You’ll be surprised when you do. (back)
- He’s no Josh Ferguson, Jay Ajayi, or David Johnson. (back)
- We can also form a pretty strong conjecture that, even if Prosise’s pass-catching background is overstated, he will almost certainly be the preferred passing-down option from this crew. (back)