Landon Collins is the undisputed leader in the Giants’ secondary.
“I’m basically the veteran safety,” he said of his role, “knowing the defense on the back end and speaking up and telling people what has to be done and shown. It’s all leadership.”
He’s got to keep the kids up to speed.
In this case, though, the kids are actually older than he is.
Collins is just 22 years old and has only a year and a half of NFL experience, but so far this year he is playing like a seasoned veteran. He leads the Giants in tackles (69), sacks (3.0) and interceptions (3), the only player in the NFL to be doing so, and on Wednesday he was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for the second game in a row. He’s the first Giants player ever to do that in consecutive games (the Giants had a bye in between them in this case).
Earlier this week a lot of stories were written and broadcast about the youth movement the Giants pushed forward in their win over the Eagles on Sunday. Exciting newcomers such as Sterling Shepard, Andrew Adams and Roger Lewis Jr. were all touted for ushering in a new generation of players.
Collins wasn’t mentioned in many of those stories. He’s been a starter since the start of last season. He feels much more like the establishment.
“I’m still young!” he said on Wednesday. “I’m the youngest besides Eli [Apple] in the secondary.”
And younger than all but five Giants on the roster, including those newcomers who raised all the eyebrows over the weekend. It’s clear that when the Giants look to their future both immediate and long-term, they do so with Collins as a major part of the plan.
Collins said it is “a relief” to be playing at this level, especially after a difficult rookie season in which he played every game and virtually every snap on a last-ranked defense. But he said he never gave up believing in himself.
“I know what kind of caliber player I am starting from high school,” he said. “I knew I was going to get to this level eventually. I just have to continue working at it.”
So where is that level right now? To put it in perspective, no Giants player has led the team in both sacks and interceptions in a full season since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. The last NFL player to do it was Pittsburgh’s Lawrence Timmons in 2012 (3 interceptions, 6.0 sacks). This season, Yannick Ngakoue leads the Jacksonville Jaguars in sacks (4.0) and is tied for the lead in interceptions (1).
“That’s my ultimate goal is to be one of the best safeties, one of the most respected safeties in this league,” he said, but he declined to answer where he feels he ranks now. “I don’t pay attention to it. I’ll take a look at the end of the year.”
He’s certainly heard whispers and chatter about a possible Pro Bowl invite. Maybe even an All Pro nod.
“Yeah, [from] a lot of people,” he said. “I block it out. To get to the Pro Bowl I have to continue doing what I’m doing.”
Collins said he has modeled his game on former Washington safety Sean Taylor. He even wears his number 21 on the field. Lately, he’s been looking a lot more like him while he’s playing, too.
Now that he’s at this level, Collins said he wants to keep growing. Just like any young player. Just like any veteran. Like a combination of the two.
“I have a lot,” he said when asked how much more of a ceiling he has in his play. “This is only my second year. I have a lot more to go.”