Seahawks L.J. Collier will be the comeback player of the year
The Seahawks didn’t get a lot out of their first selection in the 2019 draft, L.J. Collier. There’s good reason to predict he skyrockets in 2020.
A lot of people questioned the wisdom of the Seahawks when they made L.J. Collier the 29th pick of the 2019 NFL draft. Our own illustrious and chock-full-o’ wisdom Lee Vowell wrote that Collier could potentially be the new Michael Bennett – just without the penalties. The good Mr. Vowell also wrote, “Even though he got plenty of snaps as a reserve, he might still be a little raw to produce early in his NFL career.” Nailed it. Despite Collier’s nearly non-existent stat line last season, I think he’ll have a fine season in 2020. Think at least six sacks, triple the tackles for loss.
Lee later wrote that Collier could become the best number 95 to ever put on a Seahawks jersey will pan out. He wrote this before the rookie ever took a snap, so this was all about potential. That potential is absolutely still there. Collier’s season was derailed from the start by an ankle injury in camp. Then you had a rookie who only made 11 starts in college trying to learn the intricacies of defensive line play on the job. All while rehabbing an injury. I can’t think of many humans who could pull that off.
Collier is hardly the only player whose career got off to a slow start. Since I already invoked the name of Black Santa, let’s look at Bennett’s career path. He had one sack and three combined tackles as a rookie in Tampa. All of that production came in one game, by the way. Hardly seems like the start of a three-time Pro Bowler entering his twelfth season, does it? And yet, Bennett prevailed because of his drive. The same drive all of Collier’s coaches see in him.
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I believe you’re all familiar with a certain Super Bowl champion who lovingly refers to himself as Black Elvis. Yes, we all wish we still had Frank Clark on the Seahawks, but that’s a topic for another time. Clark fared better than either Collier or Bennett in his rookie year, but not by much. He accounted for three sacks and 16 combined tackles. That was in 323 snaps, while Collier got just152. It was a stronger performance, but he also had twice the opportunities.
It’s worth noting that Clark had a great camp as a rookie, with 15 tackles and a pair of forced fumbles that preseason. Those plays and those games constitute an invaluable experience that Collier never got. Despite getting in a full camp and preseason, Clark said he was just getting comfortable at the midpoint of the season. See for yourself, as reported by Tony Drovetto for seahawks.com:
"“It’s been great, man,” said Clark. “I believe I’m around a great set of guys. I don’t believe there’s a different situation I would’ve felt more comfortable in coming in as a rookie. I think the guys have done a great job of helping me transition from being in college and they continue to do a good job to this day.”"
Cliff Avril is quoted in the same article with this comment:
"“I think Frank is a very good player,” Avril said. “He’s growing each and every week, which is great. He’s picking up on the plays. This is all about fine-tuning small things that us vets sometimes take for granted. We’re just trying to coach him up on those little small things. He’s coming along very well. He’s a very aggressive player, he’s very physical, and those are the two things that you can’t really teach as a D-lineman. He has all the tangibles.”"
So it took Frank Clark time, even with a full camp and preseason, to get to the level where he could produce three sacks and 16 tackles. Those three sacks came in just two games, much as Bennett’s production was tightly clustered. Who knows what Collier might have done if he’d been healthy and gotten in all the reps he needed in the preseason?
I’m willing to bet he’d have equaled Clark’s output – not that’s exactly a high bar. But it would certainly look better than being shut out in the sack column. He’s a very different athlete than Clark, of course. Again, think Michael Bennett. Just remember, Bennett didn’t even record more than one sack until his third season. He took off in year four. So let’s not start the countdown for Collier’s “failure” just yet. I see him as having a fine year for the Seahawks in 2020.