While Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott were the shining stars of the Dallas Cowboys' 2016 rookies, third-round pick Maliek Collins was a major factor in the perceived greatness of that draft class. He emerged as a key player on the 2016 defense and was expected to continue that growth this season. Unfortunately, health and changes in the defensive line rotation limited Collins' effectiveness.
Maliek Collins went from five sacks as a rookie, to just half that number in 2017.
You also didn't see him disrupting plays in the backfield or making the same general impact that we enjoyed in 2016. A major reason for that was a foot injury Collins battled for more than half the season. He played through it, but it's a fair assumption that he didn't have the same explosion when that foot was aggravated.
Along with that, there were many changes on the defensive line. Terrell McClain's exit last Spring led to the arrival Stephen Paea. Paea took over for McClain, but then started missing time with his own health. He suddenly retired after week 5, adding to the tumultuous situation across the line.
Dallas also had to work David Irving back into the mix after his four-game suspension, which at times pushed Collins into more of a space-eating role as the “one technique” defensive tackle. This player generally does not get the same opportunities to attack quarterbacks; another reason for Collins' drop in sacks and visibility.
Part of helping Maliek Collins get back to his rookie impact, if not better, will be finding a new player to occupy that 1-tech DT role. Collins is athletic and he needs to be put in the right situations to do what he does best.
Dallas needs to feel good about Collins going forward because they have some big decisions to make on that defensive line.
- Will they keep Tyrone Crawford for one more year or make him a salary cap casualty?
- How much will they spend to keep David Irving?
- How much will those decisions allow them to commit to re-signing DeMarcus Lawrence?
Some have suggested the Cowboys could spend even their first-round draft pick in 2018 on a defensive tackle. That wouldn't be illogical, given all of these question marks.
If Dallas does draft a DT, it shouldn't be a guy who pushes Collins to the side. They got a good one with that third-round pick, and now the Cowboys need to add complimentary pieces that will allow Maliek and their other young talents to progress in the roles they're made to play.
Maliek Collins looked like a bright young star as a rookie and was put in a tough spot last season. Whatever their strategy is going forward, part of it should include getting Collins back to where he belongs on the defensive line, so he can have a true breakout season in his third year.