Landon Collins top NFL safety prospect

Former Alabama safety Landon Collins was one of those obnoxious high school recruits making his college announcement on television.

Collins is from New Orleans and had his choices narrowed to Alabama and LSU.

He picked Alabama and his mother, April Justin, was mad. Her disapproving reaction lit up social media.

“She wanted me to go to LSU, and there was a big story behind that, why I didn’t go to LSU and why I chose Bama,” Collins said.

The decision worked for Collins, who was a five-star recruit and projects to be the first safety taken in the NFL draft, which is set for April 30-May 1.

After getting over his mother’s initial emotional reaction, he didn’t regret his decision.

“I’m glad I didn’t go (to LSU),” Collins said. “Because the career I had at Alabama, I don’t think I would have had at LSU.”

He did pay attention to how LSU fared while he was at Alabama.

“There were no second thoughts,” Collins said. “You just always have the thoughts about what if, what if I chose that school. And then you just watch over it, and they’re having a bad season and you’re having a great season.”

While Collins has moved on, it’s not clear if his mom has done the same.

“It’s so hard to answer that question because she still, to this day, won’t answer that question for me,” Collins said. “She just says, ‘I’m glad you did what you’re supposed to do and get out of there.’”

At a position that is evolving, Collins is the lone likely first-round pick. Because of spread offenses in the college game, players who would have been safeties are now being moved to linebacker in order to better cover receivers.

Playing on the back-end of the defense is becoming a lost art.

“Landon is a very, very explosive, physical and a big hitter,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “He has very good ball skills.”

Collins’ versatility is appealing to NFL teams.

“He can play man-to-man,” Saban said. “He’s very instinctive. There are not very many guys who have his size, speed and athleticism that play in the secondary. Those things can be intimidating to a lot of receivers. I think Landon is going to be a fantastic NFL player.”

Falcons coach Dan Quinn came to the team from Seattle, where he had safeties Earl Thomas and big-hitting Kam Chancellor. If the Falcons trade down in the draft and pick up an additional pick, Collins could be in play for them.

Collins, who compares his style of play with Chancellor, said he met with the Falcons at the combine.

While he likes Chancellor, Collins wears 26 in honor of former Washington safety Sean Taylor, who was murdered in his prime in 2007.

“His physical play and passion for the game,” Collins said. “You could see it every time I he stepped on the field.”

Collins, who was 13 at the time, took Taylor’s death hard. “I cried,” he said. Part of his pregame routine is to watch film of Taylor.

Collins started his career at Alabama playing behind Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who was selected by the Green Bay Packers 21st overall last season.

“We are like best friends,” Collins said.

He moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore and finished second on the team in tackles with 70. Last season, he led the team with 103 tackles and had three interceptions, 10 pass deflections, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.

“First of all, being in the box, that’s where my size allows me to play,” Collins said. “The coaching staff in Alabama told me you have to be tough down there and you have to be accountable. I just had to increase my range and that helped me play sideline to sideline.”

Still, some teams believe that Collins best work will be done closer to the line of scrimmage.

“I’m physical,” Collins said. “I like being in the box. There’s not that much area to cover and it’s easy. If the running back is coming through it I can meet him in the hole and I’ll definitely be right there to bring him down.”

In addition to the Falcons, Collins has interviewed with the Dolphins, Texans, Jaguars, Seahawks, Cardinals and Jets.

It’s not clear which team Justin prefers. The Saints are probably high on her list.

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