[Editor's Note: This post was originally posted on February 22, 2019. We've reset the publish date now that Landon Collins is reportedly not receiving a franchise tag and testing free agency.]
After cleaning out his locker, Landon Collins seems ready to explore free agency and find a new home. It’s been an up-and-down four years in New York, with Collins having 80.0-plus overall grades in 2016 and 2017 and then following that up with a 70.4 overall grade in 2018 – his lowest-graded season in the past three years which also ranked 44th out of 101 qualifying safeties.
When he first entered the league in 2015, Collins was used as a true free safety and played deep down the field en route to an underwhelming overall grade of 49.2, which was the third-lowest grade among safeties that year. Then, in 2016, Collins was moved to strong safety and played much closer to the line of scrimmage and his grade sky-rocketed as he earned a spot on the PFF top 101 for two straight years. For such a turn to take place, it should be obvious that Collins is much better suited for playing as a box safety, and that’s the role he should play on his new team if he wants to reclaim his spot as one of the league’s best safeties.
To be fair, Collins did play 59.4% of his snaps from the box last season, which is the highest percentage in any of his four seasons so far. However, the Giants’ defense was in such disarray that it made it hard for anyone to be the best they could be, hence Collins’ lowest-graded season in three years. As a team, the Giants’ defense had a grade of 71.6 last season, ranking 26th in the NFL. For someone who has star potential like Collins, you can’t blame him for looking elsewhere this offseason, but teams need to understand that they can’t just plug him at deep safety and expect him to fly all over the field with range like Earl Thomas. If anything, he’s more of a Kam Chancellor.
Landon Collins can return to his 2016 and 2017 form, but, again, it must be as primarily a box safety. This past season, Collins had 23 run stops when lined up within eight yards of the line of scrimmage, ranking second among safeties. In other words, Collins tackled running backs for losses or short gains more often than most when lined up close to the action. He can also rough up slot receivers and tight ends and cover routes over the middle; Collins proved as much when he earned a top-fifteen coverage grade among safeties in 2017.
As a versatile box safety, Collins could also be used more as a pass rusher. One safety who burst onto the scene as a pass-rushing box safety is Derwin James, who was named the PFF defensive rookie of the year in 2018. If Collins was used in pass-rushing as much as Derwin James was, he may have been even more of an impact player for the Giants. In fact, Collins finished with the 10th-best pass-rushing grade (73.7) among safeties in 2016, and the 11th-best pass-rushing grade (72.5) in 2017; both of those seasons also happen to have Collins’ two-highest pass-rush snap percentages of his career. Despite having proved his ability as a pass-rusher, Collins rushed the quarterback on only 4.3% of his snaps last season, which doesn’t even rank in the top-twenty among safeties.
Among the top-ten graded safeties in 2018, two of them (Jamal Adams and Derwin James) played primarily in the box. Given a change of scenery and the right scheme, Landon Collins has all the talent needed to join that group and also become a top-ten safety who plays primarily in the box; or rather, he can return to being one.