Jed Collins an unsung regular for Saints

Unless you’re a die-hard fan of the New Orleans Saints, you might not even know who Jed Collins is.

That’s understandable because a season in which you compile four carries for four yards and two touchdowns and catch 11 passes for 50 yards and two touchdowns isn’t going to catch the eyes of casual observers.

But die-hard fans and casual observers alike might want to take a closer look at how much Collins meant to the Saints this past season. He had bounced around the NFL since 2008, but had never appeared in a regular-season game. But the Saints brought in Collins and he wound up replacing Heath Evans quite nicely.

In a season in which New Orleans set all sorts of records, Collins quietly played a very big role. He was responsible for protecting Drew Brees and opening holes for Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory.

Collins obviously had to be doing something right because the coaching staff used him extensively. According to playing time numbers from the 2011 season obtained by ESPN.com, Collins was on the field for 42.5 percent of New Orleans’ offensive plays. That’s the second-highest percentage of any fullback in the NFL.

Only Baltimore’s Vonta Leach (52.8 percent) was active in a higher rate of his team’s offensive snaps. Collins was on the field for 489 of New Orleans’ 1,152 offensive plays. He also contributed heavily on special teams. Collins took part in 32 percent of New Orleans’ special-teams plays.

Collins easily got more offensive playing time than any other NFC South fullback. Tampa Bay’s Erik Lorig was next at 23.6 percent. Lorig also got considerable time on special teams, participating in 66.8 percent of the Bucs’ special-teams plays. Tampa Bay’s Earnest Graham suffered a season-ending injury. But, prior to that, he got in on 18.8 percent of the offensive plays as a fullback and also was used at tailback.

Carolina’s Jerome Felton was next at 15.3 percent. Atlanta’s Ovie Mughelli also suffered a season-ending injury, but got in for 13.1 percent of the team’s offensive plays. Replacement Mike Cox was on the field for 11.9 percent of the Falcons’ offensive plays.