A month ago, Landon Collins was emerging as the obvious candidate to capture the Pro Football Writers of America's Most Improved Player of the Year award. After helping spark the New York Giants' five-game winning streak, the second-year safety is now drawing praise as a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Collins leads all safeties in tackles (80), sacks (3), interceptions (5) and passes defensed (10), per NFL Research. He's the first player with at least five interceptions and three sacks through the season's first 10 games since Green Bay's LeRoy Butler in 1996.
It's been quite the turnaround for a safety who ranked dead-last in Pro Football Focus' coverage grades last season. Down 10 pounds this year, Collins now holds the top spot in PFF's coverage metrics.
Not bad for a player who nearly forced his coaching staff to issue a position switch last offseason.
"We talked about him moving to linebacker if he got too heavy," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said, via NFL.com's Kimberly Jones. "And he didn't want to hear that."
Collins took it as a challenge, showing increased closing speed while making splash plays at the line of scrimmage and patrolling the middle of the field.
"I don't want to think about playing linebacker," Collins told Jones this week. "I do not. I don't like it. I don't want to do it. I've always been a safety, around the ball to make plays. That's how I always want to be."
Buoyed by Collins' playmaking ability as a gridiron enforcer, the Giants are allowing 7.6 points and 65.4 yards fewer than the generous 2015 unit. The defense has surrendered just six points in the fourth quarter of the last four combined games.
Collins is enjoying a sensational season that mirrors the success of the last three safeties to take home NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors: Ed Reed (2004), Bob Sanders (2007) and Troy Polamalu (2010).
In fact, Collins has been so impressive that his agent is starting to whisper about a run at the Most Valuable Player award.
"He said I have to force more fumbles, definitely catch more interceptions, and score at least one or two more times," Collins said, via Newsday. "I was like 'OK, cool, I'll see what I can do. Let's try to make that happen.'"
The MVP trophy, on the other hand, is a pipe dream.
Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, Alan Page of the Vikings (1971) and Lawrence Taylor of the Giants (1986) are the only defensive stalwarts to win the award. If J.J. Watt couldn't pull off the trick as the first unanimous DPOY in a historically dominant 2014 campaign, Collins will end up taking a backseat to more glamorous stars on the other side of the ball.