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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

Dallas Cowboys OL Fails To Crack NFL.com’s Top 10

Kevin Brady

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Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, offensive line

Often considered a top unit in football, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line seemed to take a step back in 2017. Mostly due to injuries and free agent departures on the left side, the Cowboys were unable to form the same solid unit we have seen in years past.

Despite their struggles, most would still consider them a top 5-10 offensive line in the NFL. At least, that's what I'd expect considering they still feature three All-Pro caliber players upfront.

Matt Harmon of NFL.com put together a list of the top 10 offensive lines in football based on performance in the 2017 season. The list was strictly developed through the use of next gen stats, which defined pressure as "pass-rushing play in which a defender gets within 2 yards of the opposing quarterback at the time of the throw or sack." In addition, "yards gained before close" was taken into account. This metric is meant to measure "the amount of rushing yards a running back gains before opposing defenders come within 1 yard of the player."

After compiling all of these stats, the Cowboys offensive line was left off of the list completely. Maybe even more surprising, however, was that the Philadelphia Eagles' line failed to crack the top ten as well. That's two lines with 3-4 Pro Bowl caliber players each missing the cut.

According to Matt Harmon the Cowboys allowed a pressure on 28.6% of Dak Prescott's dropbacks, 12th highest in the league. Dallas also ranked 20th in the league in YGBC in 2017.

While I do have some issues with the methodology of these statistics, the final result is actually hard to argue with. Down the stretch the Cowboys offense was downright pathetic at times. Regardless of how highly we thought of them prior to the year, the offense didn't perform to their standards, or the standards of a top ten unit.

Heading into 2018, however, I do expect this offensive line to begin to regain form. La'el Collins should continue to improve on the right side, and he is already an adequate starting right tackle regardless. I also expect Dallas to address their left guard spot, potentially within the first two rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft.

In the end the success of this line may hinge on the health of Tyron Smith, though. When healthy, Smith is the best left tackle in all of football. But that "when healthy" caveat has certainly hurt the Cowboys offense.

The way the front office handles their offensive line this offseason will play a huge role in the success, or lack thereof, of the Cowboys in 2018.


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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys 2018 Free Agents: CB Bene Benwikere

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys 2018 Free Agents: CB Bene Benwikere

After playing sparsely for the Dallas Cowboys in 2017, veteran cornerback Bene Benwikere is set to be an unrestricted free agent. Could he stay in Dallas, or will he have to find work elsewhere?

Dallas was concerned about its CB depth with heavy reliance on young players and Jourdan Lewis barely participating in the offseason. Therefore, the Cowboys traded a sixth-round pick to the Cincinnati Bengals for Benwikere just before Week One.

After a stellar rookie season with the Carolina Panthers in 2014, Bene had suffered a steep fall before landing in Cincy. Injuries and poor play got him cut midway through 2016 by the Panthers, and then Benwikere bounced from Miami to Green Bay before finally signing with the Bengals in the 2017 offseason.

Though a few years removed from being an All-Rookie Team standout, Bene Benwikere is still just 26 and may still draw interest from scouts who remember his better days. He is likely counting on that, because the Cowboys' secondary is starting to fill up.

Cowboys 2018 Free Agents: CB Bene Benwikere 1

Dallas Cowboys CB Bene Benwikere (#23)

The Cowboys currently have exciting sophomores Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis expected to start in 2018. Anthony Brown is back for his third season and will be active on game days.

Orlando Scandrick's future is cloudy, but Dallas won't get much cap relief from releasing him this season. They may elect to keep the veteran for one more year, which would all but fill out the CB depth chart.

Even if Scandrick leaves, talk that Dallas may move Byron Jones back to corner from safety would only leave Benwikere in the same disadvantaged position for finding work.

The best chance that Bene Benwikere has to stay with the Cowboys is if new Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard remembers him from 2014. Coaches often feel that can get more out of a player than the last guy, and Richard may see potential in Benwikere that his last few teams couldn't unlock.

Four years ago may be too long, though, and especially with a fresh new crop of young players coming into the league. Especially if they keep Scandrick, Dallas may want to use the rest of their roster spots on younger prospects.

As it stands, Bene Benwikere is unlikely to return to the Cowboys. However, given the flashes of potential he once showed in the NFL, you can't be certain that Dallas won't want to give him one more chance.


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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys 2018 Free Agents: OL Joe Looney

Jess Haynie

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Joe Looney, 49ers
James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys backup offensive lineman Joe Looney was active for all 16 games of 2017 and never had to start. That is exactly what you want from a reserve player, and Looney has been relied on as security for the interior o-line for two years now. However, he enters 2018 as an unrestricted free agent.

A six-year veteran, Looney turns 28 years old in August. He has two years in the Cowboys system and is still in his physical prime. Able to play guard or center, "Jumbo Joe" is a nice value with versatility and familiarity.

Dallas got Looney on the cheap in 2016, signing him to a two-year deal at just $1.68 million. While he hasn't been seen much over the last two seasons, coming out of the Cowboys' offensive line could raise his profile in this free agent market compared to last time.

For example, the last guy to hold Joe's role in Dallas was Mackenzy Bernadeau. Dallas paid him $5.7 million from 2014-2015 to be the versatile backup at guard and center. Looney is at a comparable point now in his career.

Joe Looney

Dallas Cowboys G/C Joe Looney

Dallas may not want to give Joe Looney that kind of raise, but they may have to given other issues on the line. Starting guard Jonathan Cooper is also a free agent and was injured in Week 17. Chaz Green was tried at guard last year and failed.

Even if they didn't need Loooney to play guard, he is also the backup center and the currently the best candidate on the roster for that role.

While nobody wants Looney as the starting left guard in 2018, but Dallas may not want to give Cooper a new deal given his injury history. La'el Collins appears locked in at right tackle, so the Cowboys may feel the need to pay more to keep Looney in case the offseason doesn't provide a better option.

If the Cowboys are inspired to retain Joe Looney, it could mean raising his annual salary from about $800k to close to $3 million. Even with more cap flexibility than they've had in recent years, that's still a big jump that Dallas won't take lightly.

Clearly, Joe Looney's return in 2018 is not an easy decision. He could be a solid veteran depth option for some teams and might even find starting work if someone's desperate enough.

With Dallas facing some uncertainty on the offensive line, that gives Looney the leverage in any upcoming contract negotiations.


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