After sitting out the entire 2019 season due to off-field issues and injury, Alex Collins successfully pulled off his comeback from the football abyss last year, re-signing with the Seahawks practice squad and appearing in three regular season games.
It had been quite a journey for Collins, who was abruptly released by the Ravens in March 2019 following an arrest for marijuana and firearm possession. He received a three-game suspension from the NFL as punishment and as he tried to work towards landing a job with another team, he broke his leg during a workout in July, which ultimately kept him off the field for the entire upcoming season.
Though his workload was limited in his return to the Seahawks, who originally drafted him back in 2016, the 27-year old Collins flashed in those three contests, including rushing for 43 yards and a touchdown in a road loss to the Rams and scoring the game-winning touchdown against the 49ers in Week 17. Making the most of his 18 carries, the organization rewarded him with a new one-year deal and his career revival continued with him earning a spot on the 53-man roster after a strong training camp and preseason in August.
Through the first three weeks of the season, Collins hardly had a chance to contribute behind starter Chris Carson, rushing three times for 33 yards while also being a healthy scratch for the season opener against Indianapolis. But with Seattle's offense floundering for most of the first half in Sunday's NFC West opener against San Francisco, the fifth-year veteran back provided the spark the team desperately needed to fuel a 28-21 comeback victory at Levis Stadium.
With the Seahawks set to begin their sixth offensive possession late in the second quarter, the team had been held to negative seven yards and had yet to pick up a first down. Collins checked in for Carson and after carrying out a play fake on first down, he snuck out of the backfield wide open and Russell Wilson dumped the ball off to him. Without any defenders in his vicinity, he raced down the sideline for a 28-yard gain and the team's first first down.
Moments later, Wilson hit DK Metcalf on a slant for a 12-yard touchdown to knot the game up at seven apiece. Suddenly, thanks to Collins' big play, the entire vibe on offense and consequently the outlook for the rest of the game had changed in an instant.
Then early in the fourth quarter, after San Francisco cut Seattle's lead to 21-13, the elusive Collins stepped up in a big way once again. Taking a handoff from Wilson, he initially darted inside and then used a series of nasty cuts to weave his way through the defense, leaving multiple defenders grasping for air. Once he found a seam at the numbers, he exploded through the hole and finished off a 14-yard touchdown with an emphatic somersault past the goal line.
As expected, Collins celebrated the only way he knows how, busting out some Irish dancing moves in the end zone.
"He's just sweet feet back there, man," Wilson told reporters following the game. "He's just able to make people miss and do something special things. He has the right attitude every day and we have a great group of running backs that can make a lot of plays."
Contributing 44 yards on 10 carries as a runner and 34 yards on a pair of receptions, Carroll praised Collins' all-around effort in his weekly Monday press conference.
“It was really obvious," coach Pete Carroll said of Collins' impact against the 49ers. "He had the big catch and run which was easy for him but a nice play, it changed field position and got us moving a bit. His running was really effective and consistent, then he had the really nice touchdown run where he was dancing through the mess, it looked great.”
Dating back to when he starred at Arkansas and rushed for 1,000-plus yards in three consecutive seasons, Collins has always had quick feet and surprising wiggle for a running back of his size. But after the Seahawks drafted him in the fifth round in 2016, he arrived for training camp a bit heavier than expected at around 220 pounds.
According to Carroll, the decision to get bigger was made on purpose, as Collins thought he needed the extra muscle to hold up physically in the league.
"It just didn't suit him. He's got great feet and a great quickness and that's how he made all those yards in college. And he thought, you know, normally only you figured he just didn't look as good. And so when he came back to us, the first time he came back, I'm wondering again, a bunch of yards, he just looked better niftier. The kind of player that our guys had seen in college."
While Collins had a few decent games as a rookie, the quickness and smooth cuts he became renowned for with the Razorbacks simply weren't there. The additional mass ultimately didn't help him as hoped and took away much of his explosiveness, which led to him eventually getting cut after the preseason in September 2017.
Landing in Baltimore, Collins broke out with nearly 1,000 rushing yards in 2018, earning himself the starting job rolling into the 2018 season. But after scoring seven touchdowns in 10 games, he missed the last month of the season on injured reserve with a foot injury. That was the start of his fall to rock bottom which culminated with his arrest and subsequent broken leg.
From there, Collins used his time away from the game to focus on himself and grow as a person, learning from the mistakes he had made with the goal of eventually returning to the football field with a new perspective for the game.
"I just accepted my situation every time, understanding where I was at and what needed to be done to ultimately get to where I am today," Collins said in an interview with Seahawk Maven in March. "That's pretty much what it was. Dedication to the cause and staying passionate even through the hard times and just grinding it out. Even on the days that I wanted to throw in the towel, it made the flame grow even more."
Though no teams signed him in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic canceled a workout he had scheduled with the Seahawks in March 2020, fate still put Collins back with his original team. Shortly after the start of the new season, he signed with the practice squad and a few weeks later, he played in his first NFL game in nearly two years in a 44-34 loss to the Bills, rushing twice for five yards.
Since returning to the team a year ago, Carroll has been blown away by Collins' work ethic and consistently reference his leaner frame. When given the chance to play, he's capitalized on every opportunity, providing quality contributions as both a runner and a receiver for Seattle's offense and earning the respect of teammates, including receiver DK Metcalf, who has raved about him on numerous occasions.
"He is never going down from a tackler," Metcalf said on Sunday. "Just how he practices hard and plays hard. I look forward to watching him for the rest of the season.”
Playing a starring role in Sunday's win, Collins has positioned himself to take on a greater role behind Carson for the foreseeable future, giving Seattle a nice change-of-pace option who runs with a blend of power and finesse unlike any other back on the roster. As Carroll noted, he's been a "come through" guy for them ever since he came back to the Pacific Northwest and he's earned more snaps due to his reliability and consistency.
As Collins continues to write his redemption story, the Seahawks hope to see him leave tacklers grasping for air on the regular, find the end zone several more times as the season unfolds, and of course, unleash plenty more Irish dancing moves.