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Is Arkansas RB Alex Collins what the Redskins want in a second back?

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Is Arkansas RB Alex Collins what the Redskins want in a second back?

Redskins draft countdown

The NFL draft is 22 days away and there is plenty of speculation as to what players Scot McCloughan will select to wear the burgundy and gold. Between now and the draft we’ll look at some of the players who might be of interest to the Redskins and discuss how he might fit in Washington.

Alex Collins
Running back
Arkansas

Height: 5-10
Weight: 217
40-yard dash: 4.59

Projected draft round: 3-4

What they’re saying
Collins was an ideal fit for [Arkansas coach Bret] Bielema's blueprint on offense with his light feet to make sharp cuts, but also his physical nature to welcome contact, finish forward and do most of his damage between the tackles. Collins is a physical runner, but needs to improve his pad level and ball security to be more reliable at the next level.

Although he won't consistently create on his own, Collins has an excellent blend of quickness, patience and power to get what is blocked for him and contribute as an NFL rookie.
Dane Brugler, CBS Sports

How he fits the Redskins: How much can they trust Matt Jones? He flashed some potential on plays here and there but he lacked consistency and his four fumbles all seemed to come at the worst times.

If they just want a Plan B in case Jones fizzles in 2016 they could wait and sign Pierre Thomas or another veteran still on the street. But if they want to go with running back by committee, with two backs carrying the load they should look to the middle rounds of the draft and perhaps to a back like Collins.

At Arkansas he was a model of consistency; he rarely failed to go to the right spot and get at least as much as the play is blocked for. Collins is not a burner and he’s not a big back but he’s a good combination of speed, size and football smarts.

Potential issues: Jones’ fumbles are an issue and they were an issue for Collins as well. He lost the handle on the ball 16 times during his career, usually due to not protecting the ball properly when fighting for extra yardage. No doubt, McCloughan and company will need to figure out if this is something that the coaches can remedy before they seriously look into him.

Bottom line: Should the Redskins spend a mid-round draft pick on a running back two drafts in a row? Whether they do or not will depend largely on if a running back is the best available payer on the board when they pick.

And I they do take a running back, should they take on with a skill set similar to Jones’? Or should they look towards a back with some demonstrated pass-catching ability (Collins caught just 27 passes in three years with the Razorback)?

If they want a guy who is more like Jones to compete with Jones, Collins should be under serious consideration.

In his own words

About the importance of patience:
I would say it's definitely patience, that plays a huge factor in it because if you're the type of runner that just always runs outside, then they'll just come from the outside and force you up the field. Just being patient, letting things lead up to it, if that's the road it takes you, then you go with it. If you've got cuts up the field, you take the cuts. But I would definitely say it's just being patience, letting things play out. If that's the best opportunity, take that opportunity. But as far as just aiming for the outside, it wouldn't work every time because defenses wouldn't let you keep doing that.
Previously in Redskins draft countdown:

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How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

How big a need do the Redskins have at running back?

Do the Redskins have a draft need at running back? It depends on who you ask.

Jay Gruden seems to be very happy with incumbent running back Rob Kelley. Here is what he had to say last month about the second-year back, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tulane, last month:

“Oh, man, I love Rob Kelley,” Gruden said. “I thought he played great. You throw a rookie free agent into the fire like that and see him play and compete. Not one time did I feel like it was too big for him. Not once. That’s a hell of a thing to say for a kid out of Tulane who only had a couple of carries his senior year. He came right in, he competes on every play.”

[Related: Full Redskins Seven-Round Mock Draft]

Kelley played in 15 games last year and rushed for 704 yards and scored six touchdowns. He started the last nine games and if you project his numbers in this games out over a 16-game season you get about 1,050 yards and 11 touchdowns. That’s not Ezekiel Elliott or Le’Veon Bell production but it’s good for a team that is going to rely mostly on the pass.

Gruden also praised third-down back Chris Thompson and backup Mack Brown. In a telling sign, he acknowledged that 2015 third-round pick Matt Jones is still on the roster but he didn’t have much good to say about him.

Why, then, do you see so many draft analysts listing running back as one of the team’s most urgent needs? Mark Maske, who is the Post’s national NFL writer but also a former Redskins beat reporter, has them taking Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey in his mock draft. “There certainly are issues on defense for the Redskins,” writes Maske. But there also is a need at running back.”

Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said that the Redskins “obviously” need a running back as his rationale for mocking Florida State’s Dalvin Cook to Washington at No. 17.

So, what is it? Is Kelley adequate for the Redskins’ needs considering they call pass plays on over 60 percent of their offensive snaps? Would they run more often if they had a back like McCaffrey or Cook? And if they did run more would the offense improve?

I think that running back is like several positions with the Redskins. If they have to get through the 2016 season with what they have they will be OK. But if there is an upgrade on the board when they are on the clock they won’t hesitate to make the pick if he’s the best player available.

We will see what happens if, say, McCaffrey is still on the board when the Redskins pick at No. 17 and top defensive targets like Rueben Foster and Haason Reddick are off the board. That will be the true test to see how committed Gruden and the rest of the organization are to Kelley, Thompson, and company. 

More Redskins: When the talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags before

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When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

When talent is there, Bruce Allen has looked past red flags in 1st round of NFL Draft

A four-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champ, Aqib Talib has a long and checkered past, which includes multiple arrests and failed PED and drug tests. The problems aren't new either, the talented cornerback was first arrested as a high school student. In college at Kansas, Talib was suspended multiple times and had multiple positive tests for marijuana use. 

Why does this matter for Redskins fans on the eve of the NFL Draft?

Despite all the trouble, Bruce Allen drafted Talib 20th overall in 2008 when the current Redskins general manager was in the same role for Tampa. While Talib's legal troubles and suspensions continued in the NFL, he also proved to be a highly capable cornerback in the pro game. 

The lesson for those trying to determine the Redskins draft board: Allen might be willing to look past red flags if a player presents good value. Talib did in 2008, and there could be opportunities for Washington in 2017.

Reuben Foster jumps to mind, as the talented Alabama linebacker will enter the league in the substance abuse program. While Foster's issues pale in comparison to other allegations about some draft prospects, players like Joe Mixon, Gareon Conley and Caleb Brantley will also present unique circumstances for NFL teams to evaluate. 

GMs are thrust into the unenviable task of determining a player's character, often in short periods of time. As 'Skins director of college scouting Scott Campbell explained, the team grades every player for their football skills first, and only later adds in character information. From Campbell's comments:

When you start to evaluate guys in the beginning, you don’t factor in the character. You don’t grade character, you grade talent. So you don’t throw away somebody early that may have some redeeming quality, or there’s a side to the story you don’t know about. You grade football players as football players first on talent, and then when it comes closer to the draft, you start weeding all that, getting more information, deciding, ‘OK, this guy’s not our kind of guy, this guy’s not a Redskin, this guy could be drafted, but good luck to him.

Thursday night the Redskins will be forced to make a determination on the right player for the team. That decision could include judging a player's character, and that could mean balancing legal or substance abuse troubles with talent and ability.

Talib is only one pick in Allen's long personnel career, but it's one worth noting. 

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