The Cowboys' 2016 draft class is already looking like one of the best in franchise history. A big reason is for that is third-round pick Maliek Collins, who quickly emerged as one of Dallas' top defensive linemen. There is plenty of reason to believe that 2017 will see Collins break out as one of the top defensive tackles in all of football.
In his rookie year, Maliek started 14 games and finished the season with five sacks. He took more total snaps than any other Dallas defensive lineman. At just 21-years-old, Collins was handed plenty of responsibility and responded.
It is especially impressive when you consider how Collins' 2016 offseason went. Maliek broke his foot in the first week of Organized Team Activities and missed all of the practice work then and through training camp. He wasn't cleared to return until August 15th, almost halfway through preseason.
Despite all of this missed time, Collins worked his way into a significant rotation role for Week One and quickly took over as a starter. This is a tremendous sign for Collins' work ethic and ability to learn. It's the key reason to believe that he will really blossom now with a full offseason to continue his development.
Another reason for optimism is improvement among Maliek Collins' teammates. Ideally, more pressure will be coming from the edges with new talent added and returning players developing.
Dallas spent their 1st-round pick on DE Taco Charlton and will also finally see the debut of 2016 4th-rounder Charles Tapper. Although he will be out the first four weeks on a drug ban, David Irving looks to keep building on a breakout season last year. Benson Mayowa, who was improving every week in 2016, looks to keep progressing. Lastly there's DeMarcus Lawrence, perhaps the team's best defensive end who will now be playing in a contract year.
Obviously, more attention going to those outside rushers opens up room for Collins to use his athleticism to be single blockers. There is little reason to think he won't improve on those five sacks from 2016. If he gets close double digits, Maliek could easily be looking at a Pro Bowl.
After an exemplary rookie year for a third-round pick, Maliek Collins has plenty of reasons to become one of the real difference-makers on this Cowboys defense. He will be one of the major players to watch next month when training camp begins.