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Matt Patricia: Jamie Collins adds an 'amazing' element to Lions' defense

John Niyo
The Detroit News

When the Lions raced to sign linebacker Jamie Collins at the start of free agency, it wasn't exactly a shock.

That’s because, as Collins himself explained after the fact, "Me and 'Matty P' have a little bit of history behind us."

New Lions linebacker is coming off a career-best season with the Patriots, leading the team in tackles (81) and sacks (seven).

But count "Matty P" among those who were pleasantly surprised, nonetheless, when general manager Bob Quinn outbid the New Orleans Saints, among other Collins suitors in free agency.

“I didn’t really think that that would be an option, and it happened,” Lions head coach Matt Patricia said Tuesday in his first media session since free agency, “and I was just really excited for us to be able to have him.”

What he has is a versatile player who spent his first four seasons (2013-16) playing for Patricia when the latter was the New England Patriots’ defensive coordinator. They won a Super Bowl together at the end of Collins’ first year as a full-time starter in 2014, and the 6-foot-3, 255-pounder made the Pro Bowl and was named second-team All-Pro the following season.

“Obviously, a great player that I’ve been blessed and fortunate being around before, drafting and watching him grow and develop as a player,” Patricia said. “Probably one of the most amazing athletes that I’ve ever seen, from a standpoint of someone that big, that strong, that powerful and some of the athletic stuff he can do. I mean, some of the things he does (are) amazing.

“I’ve literally watched him one time stand at the line of scrimmage and try to grab the ball out of the quarterback’s hand as he was throwing it. He just can do those things. Sometimes you run into those types of athletes.”

Bill Belichick and the Patriots used their first pick in the 2013 draft — a second-rounder, 52nd overall — to select Collins, who’d played for a winless Southern Miss team as a senior but still grabbed scouts’ attention as a playmaker and tested off the charts at the NFL Scouting Combine. He posted a 41.5-inch vertical jump, an 11-foot-7 broad jump and was clocked at 4.64 seconds in the 40-yard dash at 250 pounds.

On the field, though, his versatility was similar to what made Clemson’s do-it-all linebacker, Isaiah Simmons, such an intriguing prospect in this year’s draft class. Collins was a high school quarterback, started his college career at safety, then played linebacker and finished it as a defensive end.

In Detroit, he'll be expected to replace Devon Kennard, who posted consecutive seven-sack seasons but was released with a year remaining on his contract, a day after the Lions landed Collins. The Lions ranked 31st in the NFL in sacks last season, while also allowing the most passing yards in the league.

“From that aspect of it, he’s a very versatile player,” Patricia said. “Has great flexibility, is a threat in the rush, is a threat in coverage, is very smart, communicates very well. He’s mature, he has great leadership about him.”

Collins is coming off a career-best season in New England, leading the Patriots in tackles (81) and sacks (seven) while adding three interceptions and three forced fumbles. Collins started 15 games and played more than 80% of the Patriots’ defensive snaps — fourth-most on the roster.  

Prior to that, though, he’d been released by Cleveland, two years after signing a four-year, $50 million extension with the Browns, who’d acquired Collins from the Patriots in a midseason trade in 2016.

Patricia doesn’t sound like he has any concerns about the veteran linebacker’s production matching his contract in Detroit, however.

“He’s professional, he attacks his job the same every single day and he just loves this game,” Patricia said. “He grinds at it, he works hard, and I just thought to be able to bring a guy like that into our organization and to allow him to help develop the younger players that we have — even at the linebacker position — was just a great opportunity for us.”

john.niyo@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @JohnNiyo