Meet Alex Collins, the Freshman RB Who Is Taking College Football by Storm
Alex Collins fell back to Earth in Arkansas' loss to Rutgers on Saturday, rushing 16 times for just 63 yards and not moving the chains often enough to ice the Razorbacks' lead.
But in order to fall down to Earth, one must first get his feet off the ground. And in the first three games of his career, that is precisely what Collins had done.
Despite being, technically, the "backup" to sophomore Jonathan Williams, Collins rushed for 100 yards in each of the first three weeks, becoming the first-ever SEC freshman to accomplish that feat.
No other true freshman, in all of college football, had opened his career with three-straight 100-yard games since 2004, when a big, gangly, precocious 18-year-old broke out for the Oklahoma Sooners.
That man was Adrian Peterson.
Will Collins' career follow a similar track? It's not that crazy to think so.
Collins was one of the most-prized prospects in the Class of 2013, and his recruitment—or at least the very tail end of it—was among the most bizarre in college football history.
An all-purpose back from South Plantation High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Collins was the No. 41 player on 247Sports' composite. The site's subjective rankings were even keener on his ability, ranking him No. 17 overall and the top available running back.
Here's what B/R's Michael Felder had to say after his commitment:
Before his official commitment, though, there was some uncertainty regarding whether or not Collins—despite his personal wishes—would ever suit up in Fayetteville.
Toward the end of Collins' recruitment, his mother, imploring him to stay closer to home and play at nearby Miami, confiscated his letter of intent. According to College Football Talk, she even hired an attorney to prevent her son from playing for the Razorbacks.
Eventually things got cleared up, and Collins made his way to Fayetteville without much further hassle. But that story will always follow him.
On the surface, Collins always appeared to fit Bret Bielema's physical, run-first scheme. Collins runs low to the ground, has a compact frame and is capable of picking up yards in chunks.
Just four games into his college career, that surface-level assessment has proven remarkably true. And because of the opportunity Bielema's system provides, it could result in Collins becoming an all-time great college workhorse.
Look at some of the freshmen Bielema produced at Wisconsin:
|Name||First 4 Games||First Year||Career|
|2013 Alex Collins||86 car, 481 yds||???||???|
|2010 James White||34 car, 269 yds||156 car, 1,052 yds||483 car, 3,013 yds*|
|2008 John Clay||29 car, 191 yds||155 car, 884 yds||629 car, 3,413 yds|
|2006 P.J. Hill||90 car, 469 yds||311 car, 1,569 yds||770 car, 3,942 yds|
The comparison to P.J. Hill sticks out, and it goes even deeper than totals. Just like Collins, Hill started his career with three consecutive 100-yard games in 2006. And just like Collins, he was stifled in the fourth game—his team's first loss—to the tune of just 54 yards on 20 carries.
His next four games, Hill went for 129, 249, 164 and 161 yards, putting to rest any doubt his critics might have had.
A failed performance at Michigan in Week 4 did not deter Bielema from leaning on his freshman workhorse; it emboldened him to keep pounding the rock.
Expect him to do the same with Collins, starting this week against a very soft Texas A&M defense.
Collins isn't a "burner," per se, but he accelerates quickly and has enough jets to make an occasional big play.
Look no further than this 55-yard run against Samford in Week 2, where he turned the corner, burst through a small hole and went streaking down the left sideline:
But his bigger impact isn't on huge gains like that. Collins' true elite skill is down-by-down production, especially in picking up yards after contact and finishing runs with instinctive authority.
Here are some highlights of Arkansas against Louisiana-Lafayette in Week 1:
On four separate occasions of that tape—the 2:23, 2:33, 4:36 and 6:48 marks of the video—Collins either makes the first man miss or bowls though the contact and falls forward.
This aggressive running style doesn't just endear himself to Bielema, it makes him highly effective in the coach's one-cut, downhill scheme. Because Collins picks up speed so fast, he's almost always the one initiating the hit; and that allows him to pick up yards where other, more timid backs might not.
Over the course of his career, that attitude will let Collins help Arkansas to brighter days. It may not be this year, when the not-quite-ready Razorbacks have a brutally tough schedule, but likely not far after.
Collins a very nice piece to build around.
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