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Top 10 Players in 2009: #6 - FS Nick Collins

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It seems odd to put FS Nick Collins at No. 6 when I just put one of the greatest Packers ever, WR Donald Driver, at No. 7. But this list is all about looking ahead at what the 25 year old Collins can do in 2009 and beyond.

It could be said that Collins is a one hit wonder. While he was great in 2008, he played almost no part in the run to the NFC Championship game in 2007. He might be the next RB Ryan Grant; one great season, one big contract, and then the thrill is gone.

But I'm a Collins believer. I was expecting a slow adjustment to the NFL since he played college ball at little Bethune-Cookman, but he was good in 2005 and 2006. After the 2006 season, and his big week 17 game at Chicago, I was expecting him to break out in 2007. Instead he broke down and although he played in 13 games, injuries had to have played a part in his big step backwards that season.

Excusing the 2007 season hickup, he's shown improvement every season so he could still continue to improve, and there are a few other reasons he deserves to be in the Top 10:
  1. He made the Pro Bowl. Sometimes an invite can be blown off as a legacy pick, the same offensive lineman seem to make it year after year, or a wasted spot on a fullback, but not for him. He had to earn it. And it is the mark of a great player. The only Pro Bowl players allowed to get anywhere near free agency are older veterans. From last year's team, only QB Kurt Warner, FS Brian Dawkins, and LB Derrick Brooks, were truly available (beyond the franchise tag) and only because they are all 10+ season vets. Brooks still remains a free agent.
  2. He's a ballhawk. He's not going to return 3 INTs for TDs again in 2009. INTs might be a skill, although there is some luck involved with those too, but returning one for a TD is just luck. So many things have to go right on what is essentially a busted play that it's unreasonable to expect it. What can be expected is that he'll always be around the ball, get his hand on it, and hopefully create a lucky bounce. The concern is that he really isn't a ballhawk because he's really only showed that skill in 2008 and parts of 2006.
  3. The depth behind him is scary. When Collins stayed away from OTAs and other offseason workouts because of the death of his father and a contract squabble, recent free agent signing FS Anthony Smith usually played in his place. It's safe to consider the new man his top backup. Smith is a young player who knows the 3-4 system, so it's possible he'll get a second chance in Green Bay. But Pittsburgh, a team that knows something about defense, gave up on their former starter. Also, the Packers gave him a signing bonus of only $100,000, which indicates that no other NFL team was really in pursuit. He might be a solid backup, but the dropoff from Collins to Smith appears to be a cliff.