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Where is Jalen Collins going to play for the Falcons in 2017?

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He doesn’t have a clear, large role on this Falcons defense in Week 1.

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Jalen Collins was far from perfect down the stretch for the Falcons, but he largely played admirably in the back half of the season and in the playoffs, especially once the Falcons lost Desmond Trufant and truly needed him. We got sustained glimpses of his potential, and he certainly figures to be a useful piece of this secondary throughout the rest of his rookie contract.

The big question, though, is how much he’s going to play in 2017, and where. It’s a very difficult question to answer at the moment.

Start with the fact that Desmond Trufant is returning, and as an elite cornerback in the NFL, he’s not going to come off the field very often. Neither is Robert Alford, who has proven his worth time and time again and just nabbed a contract extension. That leaves Collins fighting for playing time with Brian Poole, who new defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel mentioned first when he talked about nickel backs on this defense.

The Falcons appear to regard Collins as a better fit outside, where he got most of his snaps in 2016, so it’s not a stretch to suggest that he’ll get on the field in place of Poole when Trufant and Alford kick to nickel. I just don’t see that happening all that often, which caps Collins’ potential playing time pretty significantly. He’d need the team to sour on Poole a bit, move Poole to safety, or simply impress the hell out of Manuel and this coaching staff over the summer to earn a more significant role.

Collins’ physicality and quality athleticism make him a special teams asset, and he’ll likely carve out plenty of time on Keith Armstrong’s units, if nothing else. He’s also one of the best fourth cornerbacks in the entire NFL, giving the team depth (along with C.J. Goodwin) that most teams would be jealous of. Still, Collins isn’t likely to be totally satisfied with that, but I’m having trouble finding a clear path to starter’s snaps for him.

If injury strikes, Collins will step right into a major role, the same way he did so admirably in 2016. Without injury, though, it’s very possible Collins will be more of a factor on special teams than defense early.