Khari Jones and Zach Collaros have a lot in common.
Both have awed CFL fans with their remarkable arm talent, escapability under pressure, and gun-slinging mentality. Both enjoyed Most Outstanding Player-calibre seasons (Jones won the league’s M.O.P. award in 2001, while Collaros would have won it in 2015 had he not suffered a torn ACL). And both may one day be seen as players who’s careers were sadly short-lived.
Jones shone brightly during his time as a CFL starter, but his success was fleeting due to his reckless style of play. Joining the Blue Bombers as the club’s starter in 2000, Jones’ career was done by 2005. He never suffered a major injury (on the record, at least), but the punishment he took was astounding. The 2001 Grey Cup game I wrote about last November was particularly brutal, but not entirely atypical for a Jones performance. The Indiana-native, now the offensive coordinator of the B.C. Lions, would stand in the pocket until the last possible moment on what seemed to be virtually every passing down. He routinely took gut-wrenching shots from opposing defenders, many of which would not fall within the rules of today’s game.
Zach Collaros plays the game in a similar fashion. The Ticats have allowed a league-worst 57 quarterback pressures this season, a result of shaky offensive line play, a depleted receiving corps, and Collaros’ inability to make quick decisions with the football. The Cincinnati product has taken a ton of shots from opposing defenders over the past four-plus seasons and there’s evidence the abuse has already taken a toll.
Below I’ve compared the career statistics of Jones and Collaros over their first five years as CFL starters (for Jones, 2000-2004; for Collaros, 2013-2017). The correlation in both the ascent and descent of their respective careers is striking.
Perhaps the most intriguing statistical correlation is that of the last category — rushing yards per game. Khari Jones continued to move the ball with his feet as his career progressed, averaging almost twice as many rushing yards per game in his final season as a starter (13.7) as Collaros has in 2017 (8.2).
This can be seen as a positive or negative sign for Ticat fans. On the one hand, it’s an indication that Collaros has become one-dimensional player — as we can see from the chart, running the ball was a large part of Collaros’ success in 2014 and 2015, his best seasons as a starter. On the other hand, it may be an indication that Collaros is looking to extend his career — while Jones never shied away from taking the extra punishment that comes with running the football, Collaros is looking to stay in the pocket at all times.
Either way, there’s no arguing the career trajectory of Zach Collaros is beginning to mirror that of Khari Jones. Age works in Collaros’ favor — Jones turned 34 in 2005, while Collaros will turn just 29 later this month — but defenders are also bigger, faster, and stronger now than ever before. Collaros has also suffered a major injury, something Jones was never forced to deal with.
The human body can only take so much punishment before it no longer allows athletes to perform at peak level. It’s entirely possible that this slump in Zach Collaros’ career will one day be forgotten — that he’ll soon recapture his 2015 M.O.P. form. It’s also possible that Collaros, not unlike Khari Jones before him, is on the verge of being done.
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