RENTON, WA - It's not too often that players exit Pete Carroll's program and eventually make their way back. But after a long journey filled with plenty of ups and some unfortunate downs, running back Alex Collins has found himself back in the Pacific Northwest competing for a significant role in the Seahawks' offense.
Cut by the team out of the 2017 preseason, Collins went on to post 1,387 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in 25 games for the Ravens over the next two seasons. Additionally, the Seahawks' former fifth-round selection of Arkansas caught 38 balls for 292 yards and a touchdown.
In retrospect, the decision to let Collins go was certainly one the Seahawks would have liked to have back, especially after finishing 23rd in rushing yards per game in 2017. That year, quarterback Russell Wilson infamously led the team in rushing yards (586) while J.D. McKissic was the only Seattle running back to find the end zone on the ground—a 30-yard run in a Week 4 blowout victory over the Colts.
Unfortunately for Collins, his breakout in Baltimore was short-lived. After tearing it up in 2017, he became less effective the following year and finished the season on injured reserve with a foot injury. But that would later prove to be the least of his problems as the subsequent offseason arrived.
On March 1, 2019, Collins and a friend of his were involved in a car crash in Owings Mills, Maryland. As police arrived on the scene, they immediately detected the scent of marijuana and initiated a probable-cause search of the vehicle. After finding roughly five ounces of marijuana and a firearm, Collins was arrested and consequently released by the Ravens without much hesitation from the team.
Pleading guilty to both possession charges in October of 2019, Collins has just recently finished his 18 months of unsupervised probation. In that time, his career has taken a turn for the better, earning a second chance with the Seahawks towards the end of the 2020 season.
Signed to the team's practice squad on November 4, 2020, Collins was elevated to the active roster for Seattle's consecutive road losses in Buffalo and Los Angeles. However, in the latter game, Collins was one of the few Seahawks to leave SoFi Stadium feeling good about his performance, kicking off an 11-carry, 43-yard effort with a rushing touchdown on the team's first drive of the day.
However, the NFL limited practice squad players to just two activations in 2020, so Collins didn't make an appearance for the next six games. And a full-time promotion to the 53-man roster wasn't much of a necessity with Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde both working their way back from injury. But as the regular season came to its conclusion and concern over the COVID-19 pandemic grew, the league eased its restrictions on practice squad activations and allowed for players like Collins to become eligible once again.
The Seahawks took full advantage, having him suit up for their Week 17 matchup against the 49ers. Registering 29 yards on five carries, the 26-year old punched in a fourth quarter score to virtually put the game out of reach in Seattle's eventual 26-23 victory.
Though he didn't see the field in the team's wild-card loss one week later, Collins' three-game showcase stood out in the collective minds of the organization. As such, they wasted no time in keeping him around, re-signing the running back to a one-year deal on February 24.
Following the team's training camp practice on Saturday, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll gushed about Collins' return and what he's brought to the table.
“Alex Collins has been a marvelous return to us," Carroll told reporters. "He came back and just looked different than he did before. In fact, he was lighter. Probably 15 pounds lighter than he was here before. His quickness, he’s always had great feet and great awareness and a big-time producer in college because he’s a heck of a football player. That’s all he’s shown and with him getting the offseason with us and more work than the other guys, he’s come in a couple steps ahead of the other guys who had been on Zoom and not able to do it. He looked great."
Collins is participating in his first training camp since 2018 and he's very much in the mix to be the Seahawks' go-to running back on third downs. With Travis Homer on the physically unable to perform list with a calf injury that kept him out of OTAs and mandatory minicamp as well, it's down to Collins and second-year man DeeJay Dallas to battle it out for now.
"I look at Alex like he’s a starter type of guy," Carroll continued. "That’s the position he’s fighting for. Those three guys are really going for the lead spot. We’re looking at DeeJay, as we know he can run the football, but we really like him on passing down situations and all of that he can bring until he can create more. I’m just disappointed by the fact that Homer is not out here. We love what he brings, so it’s a good deep group and we’re looking forward to seeing how it will play out with the playing time.”
Recently, Homer has been the team's primary back on clear passing downs for his blocking ability, but he's been unable to produce with the ball in his hands. Naturally, the Seahawks have shown a desire for more upside on that front, having reportedly pursued Giovani Bernard before he signed with the Buccaneers this offseason. Left empty-handed, they'll rely on one of Homer, Dallas or Collins—or some combination of the three—to fill out the role.
Collins has historically been a poor pass protector, currently possessing a Pro Football Focus grade of 40.5 in that department. But he's been a serviceable pass catcher out of the backfield and works well in open space. Dallas offers a similar skillset, catching 17 of 20 targets for 111 yards and a touchdown last year. However, like Collins, pass blocking has been a weak point of his.
The nature of the business favors the younger Dallas who's under team control for three more seasons, though he and Collins could certainly co-exist on the same roster. If anyone is in danger of exiting Seattle right now, it's likely the unavailable Homer. But replacing the one thing Homer does better than any other running back on the roster—pass protection—is a lot easier said than done.
Along with Dallas, Collins should get an extended look in the team's three preseason games this month. He'll have to show more in keeping his quarterback upright to see the field consistently this fall, but he's overcome greater obstacles over the past three years.
He's earned the favor of his coaches and has cleansed himself of an uncertain time in his life. All that's left is to finish the job and make an impact in Seattle.