“I think that makes you soft,” he said Friday after the Falcons finished their third practice of the preseason. “But that’s a whole ‘nother discussion – what makes you soft and what doesn’t.”
As Hollins shared with media his rationale for a life without forks, pressing him on whether he thought he could be a viable No. 2 wide receiver behind Drake London suddenly felt like a much less urgent matter.
“If you can’t eat it with your hands, you shouldn’t be eating it,” Hollins said.
“You shouldn’t be eating soup,” he said. “You’ve never seen a lion eat soup. You’ve never seen a gorilla (eat soup). You’ve never seen anything savage eat soup.”
It is true, although in fairness to lions, gorillas and all savage beasts, they’ve never had the chance to try my wife Robyn’s chicken corn chowder. But let’s return our focus to Hollins, who signed with the Falcons in March to be an option in the passing game, an aggressive blocker in the run game and a terror on special teams. His utensil-free diet, he said, consists of meat and fruit. He is OK with eating his meat raw.
“Most of the time, if I know where it’s from, like if I know it’s quality, I’ll just say, ‘Warm it up,’” Hollins said. “Like, so, it gets to 101 degrees. Just so it’s warm.”
Wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge later offered confirmation of the no-utensil aspect of Hollins’ eating habits.
“Yeah, for sure,” Hodge said. “He gets it out of the mud, I can say that. The guy gets it out of the mud. He’s a good guy, though. Great guy.”
The last part of the quote ought to be addressed. (There are other lifestyle choices that we’ll get back to, like how he is opposed to wearing shoes.) The other receivers have warmed to Hollins to a degree greater than one of his lukewarm steaks. With six NFL seasons, 82 games (24 starts) and 113 catches to his credit, Hollins has the most experience of any wide receiver on the roster.
“That’s my guy,” Hodge said. “He came in, and he set the standard for us.”
The Falcons are Hollins’ fourth team after he was drafted in the fourth round by the Eagles in 2017 out of North Carolina. As a Tar Heel, he walked on before becoming a four-time special-teams captain and setting the school career record for yards per reception. He was a team captain for the Dolphins in 2021 and then earned the same honor last year with the Raiders in his first season on the team. Beyond the atypical habits, there appears to be some depth of character that teammates have noticed.
“He’s an awesome guy,” guard Chris Lindstrom said. “Really, really fun.”
Among Hollins’ qualities, Hodge said, is his commitment to holding the other receivers accountable to the goals they set for themselves. For instance, Hodge said that he vowed to catch balls, do extra conditioning and strengthen his hands and core after every practice. Speaking with media Friday, Hodge assured that, once he finished the interview and returned to the locker room, Hollins was going to call him out to make sure he had done his extra work.
“A lot of the guys respect that about him,” Hodge said. “Right now, he’s a great leader for us.”
Special-teams coordinator Marquice Williams was ecstatic when the Falcons signed Hollins, who agreed to a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. Williams said that he has followed Hollins’ special-teams work since his rookie season in 2017 and got a close-up look when the Falcons and Dolphins held joint practices in 2021.
“But watching that guy play X amount of reps, like 50 reps on offense, and play every single down on special teams, and we talk about it in our (meeting) room, great plays are made from great effort – he exemplifies that day in and day out,” Williams said. “I love his passion, I love his attitude, I love what he’s about.”
And, yes, he can play a little receiver. After logging 56 receptions for 750 yards in his first four NFL seasons in part-time roles, he broke out with the Raiders last season with 57 catches for 690 yards and four touchdowns. Hollins has size (6-foot-4, 221 pounds) and speed and plays a physical style.
The Falcons have a top wide receiver threat in London, who as a rookie last season caught 72 passes for 866 yards, with 25 of the catches and 333 of the yards in the final four games when quarterback Desmond Ridder was elevated into the starting position. They parted with last season’s No. 2 wide receiver, Olamide Zaccheaus, who signed with the Eagles about a month after the Falcons signed Hollins.
The Falcons’ concept of “positionless football” and array of skill players mean that they don’t necessarily need a clear second wideout option to London. Tight end Kyle Pitts, Swiss Army knife running back Cordarrelle Patterson and the shiny addition to the offense – running back Bijan Robinson – all figure to be frequent targets for Ridder, not to mention running back Tyler Allgeier and tight end Jonnu Smith. But Hollins demonstrated with the Raiders that he can be a viable threat opposite London. Coach Arthur Smith eschews labels like No. 1 or 2 receiver, but did say that “I’ve been very pleased with that group” of receivers and tight ends.
With his on-field energy, capacity for productive play on offense and special teams and, not least, his personal style, it’s not hard to envision Hollins becoming a fan favorite. Beyond his diet and fork-free lifestyle, Hollins owns three snakes – two ball pythons and a Colombian boa constrictor that measures about 12 feet.
He loves animals, or at least most of them. He does not like cats – “cats will steal your soul. Never trust a cat.” – but does like big dogs.
“Not the rat dogs,” he said. “Those aren’t dogs. Those are … I don’t know what those are. Rats. Big rats.”
He said his father had a pet lion as a child.
“It was, like, in a big cage and it killed deer,” he said.
He is opposed to wearing shoes and even walked barefoot through New York last season during the Raiders’ open week. There, in an appearance on NFL Network, he proudly propped up his dirty paws on a table on the set of “Good Morning Football.”
“If I cut the roots out of a tree, it wouldn’t make much sense,” Hollins said. “This is how I feel the ground, this is how I connect to everything around me. Why would I cover it? Nobody wears mittens here, but everybody has shoes on.”
He doesn’t own a car – he is an avid cyclist – and is hoping that the club will allow him to stay beyond training camp in the dormitory behind the practice field where players stay during camp.
“I don’t know why guys don’t stay there,” he said. “That’s literally the best you can get. Wake up in the morning and walk across the (field)? I would definitely stay there if I can.”
And the hair – a glorious, frizzy, brown mane that flows to his shoulders, partially covering the name plate on the back of his jersey. He has sometimes worn it in braids, but now ties it in the back “so it doesn’t stick to the side of my face” when he wears his helmet.
He is not a self-absorbed eccentric. Hollins has volunteered his time to the Special Olympics, has helped organize beach cleanups and has raised money in the fight against cancer. He posts weekly videos on his TikTok account that educate followers on topics ranging from the Hoover Dam to peanut butter.
It should be noted that Hollins actually isn’t from California. He hails from Rockville, Maryland, outside of Washington.
“I’ve always been the guy that just does what I feel like,” he said. “If you don’t like it, I don’t know what that has to do with me. If it ends up I have to go do something else, well, at least I was me on the way out rather than trying to be someone I’m not and hating life every day.”
Raise a toast of lightly cooked meat to barefoot-walking, snake-owning and fork-loathing Mack Hollins.