- FREE AGENCY
“This is nice,” says Ricky Collins Jr., the Edmonton Eskimos receiver who believes he has found a more permanent home after a football life that has seen him wander from city to city, stadium to stadium, uniform to uniform.
Nice? NICE? It’s spectacular is what it is, so far.
Collins is the CFL’s leading receiver heading into Week 11, establishing a foothold after a circuitous beginning to his pro career, reaching for the sky while growing sturdy roots in a place he is liking very much.
With 741 yards so far in 2019, Collins is the receivers’ parade marshal, strutting confidently and happily down main street while the band follows along.
He’s happy. He’s very, very productive. He’s feeling like this is the place he needs to be.
“I love Edmonton, man,” Collins says shortly after the Eskimos had finished a day’s practice, preparing for a first place showdown with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. “They’ve been treating me well since I first got here.”
Ricky Collins Jr. is having a hell of a season, one that has him thinking even bigger than he did at the start of the year, one that has already assured him that he made the right choice when he decided to sign with Edmonton on Day One of free agency, last February.
After a single season with the BC Lions, Collins knew there wasn’t a fit in Vancouver, going forward. A three-year contract offer from the Eskimos was just the thing he was looking for, for reasons of stability and of possibility, he says.
He was, he says, the last player to sign on that day, so he’d already seen the incredible day Edmonton had had, with a plethora of top-shelf defensive signings as well as some crown jewels on offence; quarterback Trevor Harris and receivers Greg Ellingson and DaVaris Daniels.
“I was like, yeah, I’m gonna go there to make that a home,” Collins says, laughing. “I believed in what they were trying to get established over here. I liked the core group.”
“They signed Trev, and then they signed the other guys. I was like ‘uh, yeah, we got something.’”
Indeed, the Eskimos have got something. In a season where the defence has deservedly taken bow after bow for dominating performances, the offence had been less impressive, even if it was finding a kind of traction here and there, albeit in an inconsistent manner.
That’s changing, though, and a huge game last week, in Toronto, suggests the Edmonton offence has gone wheels-up just in time for this week’s big clash for first in the West.
“It’s coming at a perfect time,” says Collins of Friday night’s game at The Brick Field, though he does leave room for the idea of improvement; in the mind of a football player or coach that’s classic, as there is never room to be satisfied.
“We still have kinks to get out,” Collins says of the Edmonton offence, generally, and of the QB-receiver relationship he has with Harris, specifically.
If there’s a sense that the Edmonton air game is really just starting to take flight, Collins has had a big part in building the chemistry, finding himself open and on the end of Harris’ throws often during the early part of the season.
He had nine catches for 175 yards in his first game as an Eskimo, showing everyone that Harris could have a simpatico relationship with more than just Ellingson, the superstar receiver Harris had built a rapport with while in Ottawa.
Outside of – for whatever reason – two games against the BC Lions where he had just two total receptions for seven yards, Collins has been a key contributor to the Edmonton aerial strategies, averaging 15.1 yards a completion, and standing fourth in the CFL in passes caught, with 48. That’s just five back of the league leader, Hamilton’s Brandon Banks.
With Ellingson once again really, really clicking with Harris the way he did in Ottawa and with DaVaris Daniels now healthy and assuming his well-known role as a dominant deep threat, it’s hard to say whether Collins will retain his position at the top of the Edmonton pass-catching pecking order.
That, however, is not something he worries about.
“The ball will find you in due time,” Collins says, trusting in hard work and disciplined routes to be keys to continued success. Harris will spot the right guy, he says, and if he’s open, the dart will come towards him.
“He definitely makes the right reads,” marvels Collins, about Harris.
When Harris dials up Collins, it’ll be up to him to ensure the Edmonton quarterback can keep on relying on him. “When you get the ball, make your plays,” he says.
Even with Ellingson firing on all cylinders and with Daniels back to his old, blurry, streak-down-the-rail self, we have evidence that Collins will still get to eat in a passing game that is now really coming together.
Last week, with Ellingson sprinting, diving and nabbing his way to ten catches, 170 yards and two touchdowns, and with Daniels being thrown at eleven times (he caught five for 155), Collins still made good on all eight of the passes delivered his way for 71yards and a touchdown.
This trio might be exactly the kind of thing Harris had while he was in Ottawa. Ellingson is the obvious ingredient, and Daniels provides the game-breaking deep threat that Diontae Spencer did when he was a REDBLACK. Collins has emerged as the Brad Sinopoli of the bunch, getting open and making tough catches even when being blasted immediately by hard-charging defenders. Collins, though, also has another gear that makes him a threat to bust open a long one at any time.
It’s a combination that has a high, high ceiling and for Collins, that’s a bit of a surprise, personally. He’d entered the season hoping for a thousand yard campaign. He’s changed that goal, but did not say, exactly, what his new target is. At the midway point of the season, he’s on course for 1,482 yards, with Ellingson looking at nearly the same yardage by season’s end. And Daniels? Having played in just four games this season, a healthy second half would see him clock in at 960 yards if he were to meet his average of 74 yards per game so far.
“We’re trying to get something established. We have the top offence in the CFL right now and it can be better.”
Ricky Collins Jr.
“When my boys make plays, man, I’m more than happy. I feel like I made a play,” says Collins, with a nod to the close-knit nature he feels throughout the Edmonton line-up.
“We’ve got a feel for each other,” Collins says. “On the offensive side, we’re even more close. We’re trying to get something established. We have the top offence in the CFL right now and it can be better.”
Personally, Collins feels the love from his mates, and that has confirmed that his decision to land in the Alberta capital was the right one.
“I wouldn’t be able to be where I am without the support I have from the whole team,” he says, alluding to his teammates as well as to the coaches, management and support staff in Edmonton.
In a league where so many free agents now sign one-year deals, Collins was pleasantly surprised when the Eskimos tendered a multi-year offer, back in February. With a previously vagabond grid iron existence on his mind, he jumped at the chance to sign a deal with some extended assurance.
“My first three years, it was a bumpy road,” says Collins, who started his CFL career with Saskatchewan. “Having a good year in my rookie campaign (48 catches for 720 yards in 14 games), to being injured my second year (he played just one game), and getting traded to Hamilton.”
“Then, getting released…” Collins trails off and then sharply changes direction, from woe to optimism, offering a glimpse of the determination that helped him keep his chin up.
“As a player in the CFL, you have to bet on yourself,” he says.
It’s a bet that has paid off for both Collins and the Eskimos in 2019.