The clearest issue in why people do not give Dallas any chance of hoisting a Lombardi trophy up is the defense, in particular, having virtually no consistent pass rush. For the past few years, Jerry and company have attempted to fix this through the first three rounds of the draft, and whether it was due to constantly picking left defensive ends, walking suspensions, or simply misses, none of them have been the answer.
Demarcus Lawrence, the 2014 2nd-round pick, flashed potential but the team only got to experience only one full starting season — in which he was able to lead the team with 8 sacks in 2015.
Then in 2015, Dallas would acquire free agent Greg Hardy and 2nd-round pick Randy Gregory, but those stories speak for themselves. 2016 comes around, and the third-round pick of DT Maliek Collins, and fourth-round DE Charles Tapper were yet more pieces to crack this code some way. The season passed and now people claim it is possibly one of the best classes ever drafted, if not the best. A franchise QB, RB, CB and maybe LB potentially came from it, but the name that is constantly left out of the mix is DT Maliek Collins.
With no doubt, Collins has shown himself to be the best pick out of the DL group throughout his time, as a rookie. Although falling into his position at a better time than the others, he would be a vital piece in why Dallas had such a successful run defense, and potential future success against the pass. Yes, the offense was a major reason for this as teams were forced to pass more often due to the time of possession, but the defense still deserves some credit.
Also, a full season of Sean Lee benefited greatly to this cause, and Barry Church’s tackling ability did not allow many runs to pass the secondary. J.J Wilcox’s aggressiveness as well would favor him onto the field in short-yard situations that contributed to the best rushing defense. However, with three of the four names mentioned above now lost through free agency, Dallas still looks for who, and who can do even more.
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Lost in the midst of what Prescott, Elliott, and Brown did for Dallas, Collins has been the forgotten rookie within this class, even to Jaylon Smith. Finishing the season with 23 combined tackles and 5 sacks, which was the second-most for Dallas, and 7th for rookies overall (1st for DT), it would land him onto the NFL’s Next Gen Stats all-rookie team. Within this, Ryan Kang of NFL.com would note that Collins would be “effective as a pass rusher from the Dallas interior defensive line. Averaging 4.28 seconds from snap to sack, Collins recorded the fastest average time to sack among rookie interior defensive linemen and was also 5th among all interior pass rushers in fastest average time to sack”. Collins is an explosive, interior lineman, who reads and reacts to the ball very well.
What Makes Him A Potential Force?
Thanks to Law Nation of Youtube, Maliek’s various qualities are on full display that could bring future dominance. Examining this first play, Collins quickness and vision allows him to notice the screen immediately, and run across the field to make the play at the line of scrimmage. Also, realize how he switches from the 3 technique to the 2, because this is critical in a Tampa 2 defense that relies heavily on the front 4 to make plays. It displays part of his versatility, that allows him to play across the whole interior (Anthony Brown deserves some credit on this as well).
This next example perfectly showcases what Maliek can do if he can keep his hands active. As Washington runs the zone scheme to the right, he does not allow the center to kill his momentum, while also keeping the guard from crossing his body and engaging his hands on him. Balance, speed, power and vision were all required to make this play, and are what Maliek possesses when he plays at his highest potential.
Now a knock on Collins is that he does not consistently have a high motor. Plus, given his measurables (6’2, 284 lbs) it could lead to offensive lineman being able to lock their hands inside of him more than usual, and his countermoves have been an issue since his days at Nebraska. As noticed with Maliek in week 8 against the Eagles, his speed and keeping a flat line across the line of scrimmage allows him to make this play, but pay attention to how Collins keeps the blocker tight on him.
Is Collins the future of the Cowboys DL?
Being a rookie, these things happen and are coachable, but in regards to the course of the season, he became more efficient as the weeks passed. According to PFF, he would rank third among interior DL in run stops at 17 (18 in total), and also generate 43 pressures.
Dak and Zeke were the main attractions for rookies on Dallas, with a little shine for Anthony Brown as the season progressed, but Collins should be taken seriously of what he could become and mean for Dallas. The defensive line, that has been vacant of a pass rusher since Demarcus Ware, is not respected by almost anyone in the league. Could Collins possibly be that one that finally puts Dallas over the hump?
The ends are still a necessity, but a dominant defensive tackle that can roam throughout the inside is someone teams do not want to plan against. The Suhs, Donalds, Atkins, etc. are headaches to deal with and can be the sole reason their team wins the trenches in some instances. Demarcus Lawrence and David Irving, with Stephen Paea next to Collins on the inside can serve as a decent front, and Collins could be that guy out of those four.
Recognizing the level he would have to play at, Maliek explained in training camp that “the standards are basically written,” referencing the 3 techniques that have flourished in Marinelli’s system. He continues by saying that “the people like John Randle, guys like Warren Sapp or [Keith] Millard, who started the system. [Anthony] McFarland, those type of players.” Can Collins be that All-Pro DT for Marinelli? Zack Martin sure has some words on that.
Zack Martin: "I truly believe [Maliek Collins] is going to be one of the top three-techs in the NFL." https://t.co/mG10BZMeNj
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) August 24, 2017