Alex Collins entered Week 8 of the NFL season leading the league in yards per rush, yet few people outside of Baltimore and the Irish dancing community knew who he was.
Well, Collins introduced himself to a nationwide audience in the Ravens' 40-0 win over the Miami Dolphins on Thursday Night Football, showing what all the local buzz has been about.
Collins has flashed his potential throughout the year, but finally put together the breakout game he's been looking for with a career-high 113 yards on 18 carries.
He upped his season-long average from 5.9 to 6.0 yards per carry, which will likely keep him atop the league at the midway point.
Collins had run for 82 yards twice this season, but the second-year back had yet to muster a 100-yard game in his career. Now, that's in the rearview mirror.
"It feels amazing; it's been long coming," Collins said. "I've been close [to 100] a few times, and just the encouragement from the teammates, the other running backs, the O-line, you know, everybody just wanted to make it happen for me and really worked extra hard making it happen for me."
Collins has come out of nowhere to become Baltimore's lead running back with Terrance West (calf) and Danny Woodhead (hamstring) sidelined.
Despite being a top high school recruit and putting up huge stats at Arkansas, Collins was a fifth-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks last year. After just one season and 125 rushing yards, Seattle released him at the end of the preseason when they had other young running backs emerge.
The Ravens signed Collins to their practice squad three days after he was released by the Seahawks. Baltimore promoted him to the 53-man roster 11 days later on Sept. 16.
On an offense that has been riddled by injuries and been up-and-down all year, Collins' emergence has been a major bright spot. It all came together Thursday night, and Collins got a game ball from Head Coach John Harbaugh in the postgame locker room.
Collins had six runs of 10 or more yards: 19, 13, 27, 12, 19 and 10. He showed his quickness to get up the field and speed to cutback or get to the edge. Collins also had a knack for churning out more yardage by finding seams near the end of plays.
"That run up the left sideline at the end of the game … I thought he was down, but then he was still running for 10 more yards up the sideline," Harbaugh said. "[It was] a pretty athletic run. He made some really good runs. He had a couple runs where they had him in the backfield, two or three times, where he got positive yards."
Harbaugh is particularly proud of Collins because he worked his way through a tough start to the season. Collins fumbled in his first game as a Raven, just when he was starting to stand out. He lost another fumble two games later in a loss to the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers.
That put him on a short leash, but Collins has secured the ball – and his grasp on the starting job – since. After tweaking the way he carries the ball and paying particular attention to it while running, he hasn't had even a bobble during the past four games.
"I just give a lot of credit to the staff and the head coach and everybody for giving me that opportunity coming in, and trusting and believing in me," Collins said. "I had a few mishaps earlier in the season and just sticking with me, it's a great feeling. I feel the family atmosphere."
The Ravens will likely get Woodhead and West back in the coming weeks. Woodhead is eligible to return against the Green Bay Packers in Week 11, following the Ravens' bye.
But Collins has likely proven enough to still have a large role in the offense moving forward. He certainly has the confidence of his offensive linemen.
"He's a vicious runner. That's how I describe him," center Ryan Jensen said. "He's elusive, but he'll hit it downhill and run some guys over and break tackles."