On Sunday, in his first game in a Patriots uniform, recently signed wide receiver Austin Collie had two catches for 24 yards. That’s normally nothing to write home about for an NFL pass-catcher, but it is for Collie, who hadn’t had a reception since Week 3 of the 2012 season due to injury.
The Brigham Young product exploded on to the NFL as a rookie playing with Indianapolis in 2009 and caught a combined 118 passes for 1325 yards and 15 TDs from Peyton Manning in his first 25 career games, quickly becoming one of Manning’s favorite targets.
Collie’s career stalled after that fast start, however, as three concussion-related incidents and a ruptured patellar tendon forced him to miss half of the 2010 season and just about all of 2012. The string of concussions was particularly worrying, leading some to question whether the 27-year old would, or should, ever play again.
The Colts obviously believed he wouldn’t, at least not as well as he had before and they chose not re-sign him for 2013, leaving the Ontario native without a job. Now, the fifth-year receiver is trying to catch on in New England and resurrect his once-promising career. If Sunday was any indication, he might be on the road to doing just that.
It’s been well documented that Tom Brady has played the first six games of this season without any of his top five receivers from a year ago at his disposal. No member of the group that includes Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Danny Woodhead, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski has made a single catch for the Pats this season. Only Gronkowski seems likely to, but the spike-loving tight end’s availability following offseason forearm and back surgery is being decided on a game-to-game basis and it is uncertain when he will suit up again. In all, Brady has lost access to the recipients of a staggering 338 receptions from a last season.
Free-agent signee Danny Amendola was supposed to alleviate some of the pressure on the New England quarterback, but his history of being injury-prone followed him from St. Louis to New England and he’s only appeared in three contests this season. He played against the Saints, but was forced out of the game after receiving a brutal hit from cornerback Jabari Greer and his availability going forward is uncertain.
Enter Collie. The former Colt was inserted the game after Amendola’s injury and made both of his catches in huge spots during New England’s electrifying game-winning drive. It’s clear that, as the Patriots continue to mix and match their receiving corps, Collie has an opportunity to become a featured pass-catcher. This is especially true if Amendola is out for any length of time, which appears likely.
The Patriots offense is notoriously difficult to learn for new players, so Collie would appear to be at a disadvantage, but the persistent receiver has been putting in extra work with Brady at practice in an effort to get himself acclimated quickly.
“In stretch lines, just having [Brady] quiz me, giving me plays,” Collie said. “It’s one thing to hear it from your coach or another person, but it’s another to hear actually from the person who’s going to be calling. So I had to get used to that and I have to take every opportunity possible, so any free time we have, always asking questions.”
With that attitude, it seems Collie may find an increasingly prominent role in the New England offense in the coming weeks. If he gets consistent targets, he has shown in the past that he can be a viable pass-catching option, not only for the Patriots, but for fantasy owners as well.
This is obviously a fluid situation, so it’s far from certain that those targets will be forthcoming, but, as those catches on the final drive showed, Brady’s confidence in Collie is growing. The Patriots face the middling Jet pass defense next week before a matchup against the porous Dolphins in Week 8. Keep an eye on Collie as he tries to get his career back on track and he could be a valuable piece for you as the season moves along. He might not be a sleeper for long.
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