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Time to Bench Alex Collins?

Baltimore Ravens running back Alex Collins has struggled to get anything going on the ground so far this season. The question becomes what should fantasy owners do with a running back that is immensely talented, but has failed to live up to expectations?

Coming into the season, Collins was ranked among the top-20 fantasy running backs and top-50 players overall by RotoBaller. Yet he has managed just 48 yards on the ground and 109 yards from scrimmage in the first two games of 2018. Heading into Week 3, the 24-year-old back ranks 50th in the NFL in yards per game (24.0) and 65th in yards per carry (3.0). He ranks outside the top-75 players in yards from scrimmage. Collins is coming off a career season in 2017, prompting the high expectations. The third-year pro ran for 973 yards -- which was the 11th most in the league -- for an average of 4.6 yards per carry (24th). He also ranked 14th with six rushing touchdowns and 11th with six runs of 20 or more yards. It was only reasonable to expect a solid RB2 on draft day.

There are a number of reasons that Collins, or more importantly the Ravens as a team, have failed to get the running game going. Most of the reasons have nothing to do with Collins, which could be promising news for fantasy owners.

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All He Needs Is a Chance

Collins really has not been involved in the Ravens offense so far. He only has 16 carries for the season, which is 36th in the NFL. Collins garnered seven carries against Buffalo and nine versus Cincinnati.

In Week 1, the Bills were geared to stop Collins. He broke a 14-yard run on his first touch of the game, but a holding penalty negated the play. He was then stopped for a three-yard loss on his second carry of the game, although that play was also wiped out as a result of Buffalo being offsides. On his third attempt -- first official carry -- Collins dashed eight yards for a score. Collins was limited to one yard over his next five carries, including losing a fumble. Collins finished the game with 13 rushing yards.

Baltimore fell behind Cincinnati 21-0 early in Week 2, forcing the Ravens to rely heavily on Joe Flacco’s arm. The Ravens ran the ball just 22 of their 81 (27.1%) offensive plays in the game. Collins had nine of those attempts, collecting 35 yards. However, he did not touch the ball after the 3:45 mark in the third quarter.

While Collins is nowhere near the 14.1 carries he averaged a game last season, the bigger concern for fantasy owners is that he has not been the primary back for the Ravens through the first two games. Collins and backup running back Javorius Allen were each on the field for 42 of the 81 (49.2%) offensive snaps against Cincinnati. In fact, Collins has only been on the field for 41.8% (69 of 165) of the team’s total snaps. Allen, on the other hand, has been on the field for 72 snaps while Kenneth Dixon -- currently on injured reserve -- was on the field for 22 plays against Buffalo.

Comparatively speaking, last season Collins was on the field for 379 offensive snaps (37.2%). He was on the field more than 45% of the Ravens offensive snaps four times in 2017 -- all coming after Week 8 -- including two games of playing more than 50% of the snaps.

Baltimore ranks 10th in the league with 28.0 attempts a game. Collins leads the team with 16 attempts, although four different Ravens have seen at least nine carries. Overall, eight players have attempted at least one run in 2018. The Ravens gave 12 different players a carry in 2017. Collins may never be a bell cow back, but that doesn't mean he's without value either.


Not a Factor in the Passing Game

Allen is not much of a runner, in the traditional football sense, but he fills the role of the third-down back quite admirably. Allen, who finished third on the team with 46 receptions in 2017, leads the squad with 10 receptions on 13 targets. So, in obvious passing situations, Allen will likely be in the game, thus cutting down on Collins' value.

Collins has shown some ability in the passing game, although most of his receptions have come in check-down situations. While Flacco has no problem looking for Allen as a primary option out of the backfield, Collins has four receptions for 61 yards on the season. He has been targeted only five times. For his career, Collins has 38 catches on 52 targets for 323 yards. On a positive note, he has caught a pass in 11 straight games. He also has 12 contests where he has hauled in multiple passes.


Trust Issues

Fumbling has been a problem for Collins in his NFL career and unless he fixes the problem, he will likely see limited time on the field as was the case in Week 1.

As mentioned above, Collins lost a fumble around the 10-minute mark in the second quarter against the Bills. He did not play the rest of the half. It was his seventh fumble in three seasons, five of them coming since the beginning of the 2017 campaign. He has lost four of those fumbles.

This lack of trust likely has cost Collins goal line opportunities. Collins has seen three carries inside the 10-yard line this season, tallying 13 yards and one touchdown. He also has one reception when the Ravens have been inside the 10. Over the last nine games last season, Collins had 26 attempts inside the 20 with 12 of those carries coming inside the 10.

In the meantime, the Ravens have called Allen’s number 39 times -- 33 carries and six receptions -- inside the 20 since the start of the 2017 season. Allen also has 17 attempts and three catches inside the 10-yard line over this period. This season, he has scored on both of his goal line touches. Allen has fumbled the ball twice in his career, none coming over the last three seasons.


Offensive Line Woes

Here is the thing, Collins can only do so much by himself. He needs help and hasn't gotten any from his offensive line. Baltimore's O-line is ranked 28th overall and 30th in run-blocking by Pro Football Focus. Right guard Marshall Yanda and left tackle Ronnie Stanley have both graded out above average for their positions this season. However, Yanda is the only one of the five linemen to receive an above average grade as a run-blocker. More importantly, the offensive line has not been able to get any push off the line and therefore they have not been able to open up any holes.

The Ravens are averaging just north of 91 yards on the ground a game, which is 23rd in the league. They are 30th in yards per carry at 3.3 an attempt. Their longest run of the campaign is 16 yards by backup quarterback Lamar Jackson.

The Ravens were 11th in rushing yards per game (116.0), though just 19th in yards per carry (4.0), a year ago.


Stacked Defenses

Another obstacle for Collins and the Ravens offense has been defenses loading up the box.  Collins has faced an eight-man front a league-high 62.5% (10) of his carries. In comparison, New Orleans running back Alvin Kamara, who has five more carries and accumulated 27 more yards than Collins, has seen the second most eight-man fronts at 57.14% of the time.

Baltimore will face some fierce run defenses in the next couple of weeks. Starting with Week 3's opponent, Denver Broncos, the Ravens face three teams ranked in the  top-11 against the run over the next five weeks. The Broncos, featuring an outstanding linebacking corps, own the fourth best run-defense. The Broncos are surrendering 78.0 rushing yards a game and 3.6 yards per carry, both of which ranks sixth in the league. In 43 attempts, Denver has held its opponents to only four first downs and one run of 20 or more yards. They held Marshawn Lynch to 65 yards on 18 carries last week.

Following the game against Denver, the Ravens will play a weak Steelers run defense in Week 4. Then they face Cleveland, which is ranked 11th versus the run, in Week 5 and New Orleans, currently top-10 against the run, in Week 7.


Bench Collins But Hold Tight For Now

In conclusion, I believe that fantasy football owners should bench Collins at least for Week 3 against a fierce Broncos pass-rush and a solid run defense. However, it is not time to panic for Collins owners as he is a superb talent. Collins owners should monitor how he runs against Denver and go from there, especially considering their next game is against a shaky Steelers squad. In two games against Pittsburgh in 2017, Collins produced 202 yards  (7.5 yards per carry) on the ground and one touchdown. Shelf him for now, but don't do anything rash like selling him low.

If you have a better option, roll with it. If not, Buck Allen, Giovani Bernard, Corey Clement and Latavius Murray are fantastic waiver wire options if you are in need of a running back.

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