Jalen Collins has served his four game suspension, which means he’s eligible to return to the Atlanta Falcons this week. The team will have to adjust the roster to make room for him, which adds a little intrigue, but it’s his role we’re concerned with today.
Simply put, Collins is returning to guaranteed playing time. The Falcons have rolled out just four cornerbacks thus far in 2016, and while Brian Poole has more than held his own, C.J. Goodwin has been quiet. The team has had essentially no depth if injury struck, so it’s lucky that they’ve mostly been healthy to this point. In an ideal world, Collins steps right back onto the field as the outside cornerback in nickel sets, putting Robert Alford in the slot where he can do his fine turnover-based work, which would kick Poole to a part-time role. That’s strong, on paper.
That’s making the big assumption that Collins has improved to match his draft status, because he was eminently burnable in his rookie season, and will be kicking off the rust after four weeks without playing. If he looks a little shaky in practice, Trufant, Alford, and Poole have been good enough that Atlanta will probably feel comfortable easing Collins back into his role for a week or two, giving him something like 20 snaps in nickel and dime sets against Denver and Seattle, who aren’t known for their high-powered passing attacks. I think I’d honestly prefer that.
I suspect, though, that Dan Quinn’s going to get him going immediately. Collins is a big part of this team’s future at cornerback, especially if the Falcons elect to not to re-sign Alford after this year, and they need to get him comfortable and playing well. Pencil him in as a starter against the Broncos, and we will see how he fares.
Over the long haul, the Falcons likely envision Collins as their #2 cornerback, and a man who can successfully contain the receiving threats that Desmond Trufant isn’t locking down on his side of the field. Where that leaves Alford—and where players like Poole, Goodwin, and even Akeem King fit in—remains to be seen.