INDIANAPOLIS — Take a peek at Jalen Collins' NFL.com Draft Profile, and it reads like a cornerback absolutely ready to make his mark on the league.
"Immensely talented cornerback who brings the entire triangle (height, weight, speed) with him," NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein wrote back in 2015. "Still learning technique and how to sink his feet with his eyes, but the instincts and athleticism to make plays on the ball both short and deep are what set him apart. Collins is a work in progress, but his physical and play traits create a very high ceiling if he continues to learn to play the position."
Collins had first-round talent written all over him.
It's the "buts" that have followed him since his days at LSU — and now throughout his first few years in the NFL — that have been the issue, however.
Accordingly, some off-the-field concerns likely contributed to Collins falling to the Atlanta Falcons in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Since that time, Collins has seemingly been away from the field just as often as he's been on it.
But here he was on Thursday, on an NFL practice field, finally, for the first time in quite a while (since training camp in 2017, to be exact). Signed to the Indianapolis Colts' practice squad, Collins hasn't made it all the way back. But he's ready to show that his past issues are just that — in the past — and that he can most certainly still fulfill the lofty expectations placed on him coming out of college.
"I just want to play football, man," Collins told reporters on Thursday. "That's why I'm here, and I'm grateful for the opportunity."
Collins certainly seemed to be on the right track when his professional career began. In 24 career games with eight starts in Atlanta in 2015 and 2016, he compiled 43 tackles (40 solo; two for a loss), two interceptions and 10 passes defensed.
Collins saved his best play for the biggest of stages. A starter for all three of the Falcons' postseason contests in 2016, Collins registered 18 tackles (16 solo) and knocked down two passes during that stretch, and forced, and recovered, a fumble against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
Collins contributed a team-high 11 tackles in the Falcons' 34-28 overtime loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
But Collins' issues off the field, to this point, have kept him from really realizing his true potential on the field.
Waived by the Falcons last November after serving a 10-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing substances, however, the Colts and general manager Chris Ballard remained intrigued not only by the pure talent Collins could potentially bring to their secondary, but by how Collins would respond if given a fresh start in Indy.
On Tuesday, Collins was reinstated by the NFL after having served his fourth total suspension, another of the 10-game variety. On Wednesday, he flew to Indianapolis to work out for the Colts. And on Thursday, the team decided to take a chance on Collins, signing him to their practice squad. In a corresponding move, the Colts released practice squad quarterback Phillip Walker.
Collins said he had been training in Atlanta over the course of his most recent suspension. Although the thought never really crept into his mind that he'd never get another shot in the NFL, he says he's taken significant steps to ensure that he doesn't slip up again.
"It's been a long, long time being out, being away from it," Collins said. "(I) just took some time for myself to get my head in a good place, and the things that I was struggling with, I put those things behind me.
"Over the time that I've been out I've surrounded myself with a great support system," Collins added. "And then working with my agent and Chris now, I know that I have everything I need when, say, a situation might come up."
It's clear why the Colts like what Collins possibly could bring to their secondary down the road. A big corner at 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, Collins has that rare mix of solid coverage skills and physicality that is coveted in defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' system.
So, sure, Collins can run and cover. But he loves to hit.
"I mean, the only way I know how to play football is physical," he said. "Hitting guys and trying to be in the mix."
Now it's up to him to stay on the right path.
"I really don't have a lot of chances," Collins said. "And I've learned from my experiences, did my time, and I'm just ready to get going."