Atlanta cornerback Jalen Collins has had plenty to overcome in the recent months, but has emerged as one of the team’s most impactful players.
It was once a bit unsettling for Collins and the organization when he was forced to sit out the season’s first four games due to violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
During that time, the second-year cornerback was banned from the team’s facility and couldn’t have direct contact with the team.
“I had to learn to lean on my family,” Collins said. “I had been working with (the Falcons) in the offseason ... it was tough that I couldn’t be up here and a part of what was going on. It sucked, because that was what we work for each week.”
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The worries were put to rest when he was given a significant opportunity. Collins’ role changed after assuming a starting role when star-caliber defensive back Desmond Trufant was placed on injured reserve with a strained pectoral.
Collins indicated that it was a bit of a strange situation, with Trufant suffering the injury in the second half of Atlanta’s game at Tampa Bay on Nov. 3. But while the Falcons lost one of their major players, the adversity proved to be oddly beneficial for the young backfield.
“It happened so sudden, that I didn’t get to talk to him (for any advice),” Collins said. “I had to go out there and play. But as a group, we got closer together and knew we had to go pick it up.”
Collins’ most recent impact was evident in Atlanta’s NFC Championship win last Sunday, in which he stripped the ball from Green Bay fullback Aaron Ripkowski and gave the Falcons a swing of momentum en route to a convincing 44-21 victory to clinch a berth in Super Bowl LI.
The strides in Collins’ game have been apparent in the latter stages of the season. Throughout the team’s past five games, Collins has proved to be a problem for the opposition, alongside counterpart Robert Alford, who has also been tasked with assuming a more crucial role.
Collins has collected 17 total tackles, two interceptions, seven pass deflections and a forced fumble dating back to the Dec. 24 victory at Carolina. The expectations were lofty for the LSU product as a second-round draftee in 2015, and he’s now beginning to live up to them.
“I’m really impressed with Jalen. He’s a young guy who dealt with injuries throughout college,” Falcons defensive coordinator Richard Smith said. “With Trufant missing, he’s come and performed at a high level. I like the swagger that he has, and he’s very confident. Last week, he got beat on a route, but he came back to compete. That’s the thing I like about him the most, his competitiveness. He has a bright future, and will only get better.”
Collins’ situation was peculiar in the fact that the NFL issued the suspension in April 2016, but Collins had the opportunity to participate in the team’s training camp and preseason slate before being excluded for the first quarter of the regular season.
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn saw the improvements during a time when Collins could have easily been overlooked. Along with Collins’ improved skill set, his leap in maturity has led him to become an integral focus for the Falcons’ young defensive unit.
“He’s really a guy that has totally stepped up for the team,” Quinn said. “He had a difficult start to the season, and when you get those opportunities and take advantage, then it builds confidence. He’s a shining example of that. He had a good training camp, and that goes unnoticed.
“We already knew about his speed and length, but he worked hard on tackling. He kept working that technique harder, and the byproduct of that is that he’s getting better. That’s been a big thing for us.”