Dave Merritt says Landon Collins has the potential to be the best safety in the NFL in 2017.
That might not be enough.
“In my opinion, he needs to put a string of years together playing at a high level to be considered not only the best in the game but to try to make yourself a little more than just the best right now,” Giants safeties coach Merritt said Wednesday. “Put yourself in that other stratosphere. And that other stratosphere is: What are they going to be talking about you and saying about you when this game is over, when it’s done?”
In other words, an all-time great. A player who doesn’t just define his position but redefines it.
Collins’ jump from his first season to his second one certainly has sparked those possibilities, and he has told people he wants to be considered with Lawrence Taylor as one of the best defenders in team and NFL history.
Still only 23 years old, Collins was in the running for Defensive Player of the Year in 2016 when he had five interceptions and four sacks.
“If I was rating him 1 to 10, I think Landon right now is probably at a 7,” Merritt said. “I think he can get up to playing at an 8 1⁄2 or 9 consistently. Then you’re talking that you’re always in the running for a possible Player of the Year, constantly making Pro Bowls and things like that, being All-Pro.”
None of that, of course, is a sure thing.
“Last year was such a big jump for the kid and I’m proud of him, but that was last year and I told him that,” Merritt said. “Antrel Rolle after he came off of his pretty good year in 2013 came back the next year and didn’t do as well. I’m trying to make sure that he doesn’t get caught in any type of trap.
“I understand right now he’s always been the best. He was the best coming out of high school, he was the best coming out of college. But now you’re here and every year there is going to be a new crop of guys coming in and there are safeties around the league who are hungry. So you have to make sure you stay hungry, keep your body in shape, keep your mind strong and constantly learn the game of football.”
And maybe, just maybe, change it a bit.
Merritt said he worried a bit about the people who were pulling at Collins this offseason, taking him away from his work and preparations on the so-called banquet circuit. He said he thinks the key to Collins’ continued improvement will be maintaining his weight, which will allow him to cover tight ends in open spaces while also rushing quarterbacks and making plays on the ball.
“He has room to grow,” Merritt said. “With this defense, and understanding not only his position but understanding how far he can cheat, how far he can take a disguise, that’s part of the growth that we’re talking about. He has to continue to learn this defense . . . Understanding the pieces of the puzzle and where everyone else is around him on the field, that’s where he has to continue to grow.”
Collins will be asked to do even more this year. He’ll be lining up in various places on the field, Merritt said, expanding his repertoire even further.
“He’s doing things we’re not asking other guys to do,” Merritt said. “His job is going to be complicated.”
But it also could mean more production.
“He played out of this world last year, but I think there is so much room for Landon to improve mentally, as well as just understanding situational football as well as technique,” Merritt said. “Do I see him continuing to make that jump? Yes.”
Comparing Landon Collins’ 2015 and 2016 numbers: