Overlooked and underrated, Arkansas RB Alex Collins one of SEC's best

Arkansas running back Alex Collins was third in the SEC with 1,577 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns this season. Justin Ford/USA TODAY Sports

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Bill Snyder just finished his 24th season at Kansas State. He’s seen a lot of good running backs in his day. But Alex Collins of Arkansas might be near the top of that list.

"He wasn’t any different than what we saw on videotape," Snyder said after Saturday’s Liberty Bowl loss to Arkansas. "He’s a very explosive young guy. He runs downhill extremely well, but he can make you miss. He’s an extremely talented young guy.

"As you look, you have a plethora of exciting and talented running backs in the SEC. And he’s at the top of the list, I think."

Wait, what? Collins did rush for 185 yards and three touchdowns against Snyder’s Kansas State’s team. He broke about five tackles on his way to the end zone on one run. But the best running back in the SEC? That means he’s better than the Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, and that also puts him ahead of LSU star Leonard Fournette.

Before you chalk Snyder’s comments up to old age -- the guy is 76 years old -- there is a chance he’s on to something.

Collins was third in the SEC with 1,577 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns this season. He, Henry and Fournette were the only three running backs in the league to average more than 100 yards per game, and he actually averaged more yards per carry (5.82) than Henry.

This isn’t to show he’s better than the other two. Henry won the Heisman for a reason, and Fournette is as good as we’ve seen at the position in a long time. But Collins at least belongs in that conversation. He’s the only current running back in the conference to rush for more than 1,000 yards in three straight seasons.

"The kid is unbelievable," Arkansas offensive lineman Sebastian Tretola said after the bowl game. "He runs angry, he runs mad, the legs never stop, and that adds to our mentality. The offensive linemen keep going -- even if you miss your block, he might make that guy miss, so you better keep running because you might help him 20 or 30 yards down the field."

Still, all we heard about before the season was Fournette and Nick Chubb. And all we really heard about after the season began was Henry and Fournette. Chubb would have likely been in the mix had he not suffered a season-ending injury while at Georgia. What about Collins, though? He somehow flew under the radar until his dominant performance in the bowl game.

On Wednesday, Collins is expected to meet with his head coach Bret Bielema and decide whether it’s in his best interest to declare early for the NFL or return to Arkansas for his senior season.

"Alex is playing as good as football as he’s ever played since he’s been here," Bielema said. "He’s been a steady crescendo in our program, and that’s what you should do. You should get better every day, every week, every year.

"If he comes back with us next year, you’re probably looking at a Heisman candidate. He’ll go down as one of the best players not only at Arkansas, but he could be the first player ever to rush for four 1,000-yard seasons in the SEC. It’s never been done before.

"If he goes on, the NFL is going to get a very good football player with a lot of growth and a lot of opportunity in front of him. I’m just blessed to have three years with him already."

Regardless of what Collins decides to do, he should be recognized for the season he had and the caliber of back he is. At this point, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see him have a more productive NFL career than his counterparts Fournette and Henry.

After all, if Bill Snyder thinks he’s the best running back in the SEC, then he might very well be the best running back in the SEC.