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Landon Collins’ next individual goal is to win the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year Award. This season.
So excuse him if Tyrann Mathieu’s recent Twitter trash talk about safety supremacy fired Collins up. The Giants’ first-team All-Pro, reigning defensive player of the year finalist told the Daily News on Wednesday that he has a long memory of slights that drive him “every day” on his rise to the top.
And he intends to put the Arizona Cardinals’ Mathieu on his list of doubters who were wrong.
The list already includes voters who placed Collins a distant third (nine votes) last season behind Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack (18 votes, Oakland Raiders) and runner-up Von Miller (17 votes, Denver Broncos). It includes the teams that didn’t select Collins in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft (all of them).
And it even applies to voters who named Louisville corner Gerod Holliman the 2014 Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top defensive back ahead of Alabama’s Collins, the runner-up.
“It’s very realistic,” Collins, 23, told the News of becoming the NFL’s best defensive player. “It’s a dream of mine. It’s a goal of mine. I was shut out of it in college. I was mad about that, with the Thorpe Award. They gave it to some kid, wherever he came from, and I don’t think he’s doing nothing now in the league. I rightfully should have won it then, and at the same time I feel like I was robbed last year. So it’s another chip on my shoulder, just like when I came in from my rookie year, being drafted in the second round. It’s big for me.”
Holliman is not, in fact, on an NFL roster. Collins, on the other hand, is a rising star with nearly unrivaled confidence. And that’s why he started spouting off at the Cardinals’ Mathieu on Saturday night. It turns out The Honey Badger started it by implying Collins wasn’t in his class with a tweet he since deleted.
That prompted Collins to tweet “Hold all that noise” and “Better yet I’ll show you week 16,” referring to the Giants’ scheduled Christmas Eve visit to Arizona, starting a Saturday evening war of words.
“A reporter tweeted both of us and he was really giving us both props at the same time, telling Honey Badger that he has somebody — because he says he’s the best safety — chasing after his position,” Collins said Wednesday. “I didn’t think any of it, didn’t retweet it, but Honey Badger saw the tag and he tweeted both of us saying: “Man, please.” He deleted (the tweet). But I took offense to it, saying what he said like I’m not gonna take his spot (or) I’m not someone he thinks is close to him. So I was like, cool.”
Collins qualified Wednesday that “it’s all a lotta love” still between him and Mathieu because both grew up in Louisiana, where football and trash talk are second-nature, and because “I know where he’s coming from.”
“He’s just saying he’s done a lot to get in his position, and I’m gonna have to do a lot to come get his position,” Collins said. “So when we play the Cardinals, I’m gonna have to show him who’s gonna be one of the best safeties up and coming.”
But Collins and Mathieu both play defense, so the only way they could go head-to-head in Week 16 is if the versatile Mathieu stepped back to receive a punt or kickoff. No surprise, Collins would love to see it.
“If he gets back to return punts, I’m gonna tell coach let me get (in as) that gunner real quick,” Collins said with a smile.
Collins’ swagger and supreme confidence are enough to make you believe he actually might win the award he seeks. He finished 2016 with 100 tackles, five interceptions and a touchdown return, four sacks, a fumble recovery, 13 passes defended, nine tackles for a loss, and a league-high 49 defensive stops among safeties, per Pro Football Focus. And his approach to the game always makes him a threat.
“He’s contact-crazy,” corner Janoris Jenkins said of Collins Tuesday. “All he wants to do is run around and hit people.”
Collins isn’t perfect, though, and the way last season ended reminds him of that: The Giants’ fearsome safety was one of four defenders victimized on Aaron Rodgers’ game-changing Hail Mary just before halftime of Big Blue’s eventual 38-13 Wild Card playoff loss in Green Bay. And while corner Eli Apple and safety Leon Hall had better chances at the ball, Collins never jumped.
“(I’ve put it) in the back (of my mind), but I don’t forget about it,” Collins said Wednesday. “I wish I would have done something different. I wish I would have jumped and gone over to that side. I let my other guys jump because I saw them go up, so I was just playing the back tip and making sure it doesn’t go into somebody’s hands either way. (But) in my mindset I should have jumped and made sure the ball went out of bounds or made an interception… It was the first time it ever happened to me. I was like, ‘What in the world?’ I will not allow it to happen again, if it’s up to me.”
That loss drives Collins and the Giants in their ultimate goal for a championship. But it’s also extra motivation for Collins in his quest to quiet his doubters once and for all, to leave no doubt when it comes to a vote at the end of this season: Who is the best defensive player in the league?
“Now that I’m in their head,” Collins said, “they’re definitely gonna be watching me.”