This year Dallas selected Maliek Collins, a defensive tackle out of Nebraska, with their third-round pick. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli was audibly excited about the selection, telling Collins that he “fit us to a T.” An immediate scheme fit is a great thing for any rookie, but especially with the opportunity that presents itself on the defensive line.
With defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory facing suspensions to start the year, Dallas will be looking for the best temporary solutions. They have several DE options in free agent addition Benson Mayowa and returning players David Irving, Jack Crawford, and Ryan Russell. They also just drafted Oklahoma's Charles Tapper in the fourth round.
Another possibility is that Tyrone Crawford, typically the three-technique defensive tackle, could play on the edge to start the season. He played defensive end when the Cowboys ran a 3-4 scheme and has the athleticism to do it now. This would open the door wide for Collins, who also projects as a three-technique, to potentially start as early as Week One.
Can Collins contribute so quickly? Third-round picks are probably the biggest “mixed bag” in the draft. Plenty of future starters and even star players have come from their ranks. Others have quickly fallen right out of the league. Just look at the last 10 years:
- 2006 – Jason Hatcher, DL
- 2007 – James Marten, OT
- 2009 – Jason Williams, LB
- 2009 – Robert Brewster, OT
- 2011 – DeMarco Murray, RB
- 2012 – Tyrone Crawford, DL
- 2013 – J.J. Wilcox, S
- 2013 – Terrance Williams, WR
- 2015 – Chaz Green, OT
Marten, Brewster, and Jason Williams were all quickly scrapped. Hatcher, Murray, and Crawford became household names. Guys like Wilcox and Williams have been solid but often leave you wanting more. We're still waiting to see what happens with Green.
With coaches always wanting to find ways to get their best talent on the field at all times, Collins will have every opportunity. Tyrone Crawford and Cedric Thornton are all but locked in as the starters at defensive tackle but Crawford's versatility will present the Cowboys with options.
Even if it's only four the weeks that Lawrence is suspended, Collins could be an immediate factor in the 2016 defense. Guys like Hatcher and Crawford didn't hit the ground running in the NFL but also were having to adjust to the 3-4 scheme. As Marinelli said, Collins will enter Dallas already acclimated to their system.
If Collins contributes early then that will only open the door for more reps as the season goes on, even after the suspended players return. Marinelli loves his rotations and packages and the front office loves it when drafted players deliver. Collins will get every rep he can handle over guys like Terrell McClain, David Irving, and Jack Crawford as long as he's yielding good results.
If Marinelli's excitement was any indication, Collins has a good chance to produce.