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Cowboys Must Help DT Maliek Collins Bounce Back in 2018

Jess Haynie

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Maliek Collins

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.

Maliek Collins, Redskins

Dallas Cowboys DT Maliek Collins (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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5 Comments
  • nick

    I’m dreaming of lawrence and irving on the ends and collins and Vea in the middle. Ill keep dreaming though, we couldn’t get so lucky.

  • Travis Diggs

    The goal should be to resign Irving and probably still draft a DT

  • Nick Russo

    I strongly agree with everything you said. Collins was an impact player as a rookie as a 3-technique. Our 1-tech has been a revolving door for years now. I think we have more depth than we think on the D-line besides for a true 1-tech. With Irving, Lawrence, taco, Charles tapper, and potentially Randy Gregory, (if he can keep it together) we have some good quality players at DE. Then if they decide to keep Crawford you have an DT-DE hybrid to keep players fresh.

  • John McClain

    Vita Vea is the pick that could make the Dline dominate

  • John Williams

    Collins definitely is a better 3T. Find a 1T in the offseason (Star Lotuleilei or draft one) and let Collins get more of his snaps at the 3.

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys 2018 Breakout Candidates: TE Geoff Swaim

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Headlines -  76

For the 2018 Dallas Cowboys, the retirement of Tight End Jason Witten was one of the biggest developments of the offseason. It leaves a gaping hole in their offense, and no major free agent or high draft pick was added as a clear replacement. As such, fourth-year veteran Geoff Swaim may be in line for a breakout season.

A seventh-round pick in 2015, Swaim has stuck in Dallas with strong run-blocking and special teams play. His offensive production has been limited to just nine catches and 94 yards, thanks largely to the stranglehold that Witten kept on the TE position. Geoff has only been targeted 11 times in the passing game over three seasons.

But with Witten leaving, as well as veteran backup James Hanna, Swaim is now the elder statesman of the TE group. Even his limited playing time in the NFL thus far puts him way ahead of Rico Gathers, Blake Jarwin, or rookie Dalton Schultz.

Based on reports from the offseason practices and camps, Geoff is getting the first crack at becoming the new starter. It makes sense given his experience edge, but also his proficiency as a run blocker.

The Cowboys will likely lean on Ezekiel Elliott heavily this year, particularly early in the season. The passing game will need time to find itself with Witten and Dez Bryant gone. They'll want to ease Dak Prescott into heavier workloads as he and his new receiving options get acclimated.

Geoff Swaim

Dallas Cowboys TE Geoff Swaim

Geoff Swaim will be one of those new options. And even though his reputation is for blocking, don't take that to mean he's not athletic.

We've seen Swaim on the move as a blocker and also in the passing game, and he's certainly got some wheels. That could make him a deceptive weapon on play-action and other passing plays out of running formations.

In some ways, losing Witten and Bryant makes the Cowboys' offense less predictable than in the past. Defenses will be less sure who to focus on, and that also creates opportunities for the new receivers.

Obviously, Swaim's breakout potential is dependent on Prescott looking his way. But unless Dak has undergone a major change in his playing style, a TE working in the short and middle parts of the field is someone he'll rely on plenty.

With training camp and preseason still to come, calling Geoff the starter right now is just an assumption. There is still time for one of the other prospects to impress and climb the ladder.

But right now, there's clearly no better candidate to claim the spot than Swaim. He has the most critical skill as a blocker, and his potential in the passing game is underrated. It's his job to lose.

The guy with only nine career catches could get that in a single game this year. Therefore, Geoff Swaim is clearly one of the major breakout candidates for the 2018 Cowboys.



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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys 2018 Breakout Candidates: LB Jaylon Smith

Jess Haynie

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#DALvsIND: 5 Cowboys Storylines To Watch In Preseason Week 2 1

No single player on the Dallas Cowboys roster right now may be more primed for a breakout season than Linebacker Jaylon Smith. His ascension as a player isn't just a big gain for the Cowboys defense, but it may be vital to their success in 2018.

Smith joined the Cowboys as a high second-round pick (34th overall) in the 2016 NFL Draft. Potentially a top-five elite talent in that class, Jaylon's stock fell after a severe knee injury in his final college game. It was unknown if he could ever play football again, but Dallas took the risk based on Smith's incredible upside.

After Jaylon sat out his rookie year to fully rehab. In 2017, he was able to play all 16 games and started in six. That alone was a huge win for Smith and the Cowboys.

Jaylon's performance last year wasn't great,  but understandably so after all the missed time. He also had to regain confidence in his knee, which is critical for a linebacker with all of the directional changes during plays.

Still, Smith got better as the season went. And even amidst the struggles, there were flashes of his instincts and potential.

This offseason, reports of Jaylon's improving health are fueling increased optimism. He is now playing without a knee brace and that means more confidence. If Smith fully trusts his body now, it will make him far more dangerous on the field.

5 Positives for Cowboys Heading Into the Off-Season

Dallas Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith

With Anthony Hitchens leaving in free agency, Dallas needs Jaylon to be a bigger factor this year. If he doesn't take the next step, it could leave the Cowboys vulnerable at linebacker in 2018.

True, Dallas drafted Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of last April's draft. But it's always dangerous to ask a rookie to do heavy lifting, and especially one who is seen as a raw talent like Vander Esch.

Ideally, anything Dallas gets from Leighton this year will be gravy. Their goal is to rely on veteran Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, with Damien Wilson also available as a solid fallback option.

But when you mention Sean Lee, you have to mention health concerns. After two encouragingly healthy seasons in 2015 and 2016, Lee was back to having some issues last year and missed five games.

That is all the more reason why Dallas needs Jaylon to be ready for more this year. If Lee misses time again, Smith is the best suited to take over the roles that Sean leaves behind.

Thankfully, all signs point to big things for Jaylon Smith in 2018. His body appears healed and there's no questioning his work ethic and desire. If the mental aspect of football has also developed, he could be everything the Cowboys hoped when they drafted them.



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Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?

Sean Martin

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Despite Late Push in Year One, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See the Field in 2018? 1
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

It feels like ages ago that the Dallas Cowboys spent the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Michigan Defensive End Taco Charlton. Perhaps this is a result of the constant distancing fans have made from this unpopular pick, or the corresponding moves the Cowboys have made at DE since drafting Charlton.

These moves include using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after seeing him explode for 14.5 sacks, spending a fourth round pick this year on Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, and seeing Randy Gregory reinstated in time for training camp.

Across the entirety of the Cowboys roster, there will be plenty of "odd men out" that miss the cut down to 53 players. Defensive end remains one of the most cluttered spots on the current 90 man roster however.

Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?

Dallas Cowboys DE Taco Charlton, DT Maliek Collins (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

Prior to establishing the depth the Cowboys now have up front on defense, they did Taco no favors by starting his career at right defensive end. While Gregory may still be a long way from earning the starting role here, similarly styled players like Armstrong have the edge here over Charlton.

This relegates Charlton to the strong side, where he always projected best out of college. By the time the Cowboys realized this a season ago, they also knew a franchise pass rusher was playing his way into the team's long-term plans.

Lawrence's stellar consistency off the edge reduced Charlton's role in the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers. An ideal spot for the rookie to develop with less pressure on him, Charlton's opportunities to continue playing left end may only be reduced this season.

The first-round pick is capable of kicking inside at defensive tackle, a position the Cowboys could certainly use help at. However, asking Charlton to go through another position shift would only halt the progress that took quite a bit of patience from Dallas to see.

It's far from unheard of for the Cowboys to do this with their young players, but for now Charlton remains a defensive end looking to make his impact. The Cowboys are in much better position now than they were at this time a year ago when it comes to setting expectations for him to do so.

Given everything he showed on tape at Michigan as well as in his pre-draft interviews, Charlton is a player that needs to succeed at the task at hand. When this plan is altered, the 6'6" pass rusher is much less effective -- without even considering any athletic struggles that Charlton has compared to other prototypes at defensive end.

As a unit, the Cowboys defensive line has all the pieces to be very effective this season. Taco Charlton is a piece to this puzzle, a backup left end that must find a way to flourish in this role.

For most former 28th overall picks, doing so would be considered a fall from grace. For the Cowboys, it's simply an example of strong roster building that's forced life to come at Charlton quickly. How he responds with a full season under his belt will make or break the hype this deep Cowboys defensive line has garnered, lead of course by the starter at Charlton's position in DeMarcus Lawrence.

Tell us what you think about "Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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