The defensive line issues for the Dallas Cowboys have been well documented this offseason.
From injuries to suspensions to just overall poor play, there have been a ton of questions surrounding this unit. But after Tyrone Crawford's surgery, the signing of free agent Cedric Thornton, and now the addition of former Nebraska Cornhusker Maliek Collins through the draft, the interior rotation of their defensive line seems to be in a good place.
Collins was selected by the Cowboys in the third round with the 67th overall selection. He was the first of two defensive lineman selected, the second of which I have already broken down on Inside The Star: Defensive End Charles Tapper.
Collins is similar to Thornton in many ways, and these similarities make his selection even more intriguing.
Defensive tackle was clearly a need for Dallas in the draft, and this class was littered with interior talent. Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings, who had received late-first-round to early-second-round grades from multiple scouts and was regarded by many as a top 30 player, was still on the board and yet the Cowboys went with Maliek Collins.
This decision displays the organization's commitment to Rod Marinelli's defensive scheme, and Jason Garrett's idea of the Right Kind of Guys (RKGs). At 6'3" 310 pounds, Collins is the stereotypical Dallas-guy whose scheme fit seemed to be one of the deciding factors for Dallas on draft day.
Collins can absolutely play, however, and his tape shows that he can have an impact for the Cowboys immediately during his rookie season.
Let's take a look.
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Right off the bat we see Collins get after it in a pass rush situation. 3rd-and-4 gives the offense the run/pass option, but considering their formation, it certainly looks like a clear cut pass play.
Collins does a nice job of fooling the offensive lineman here with a quick swim move. He gets his arms extended, gets hands on the offensive lineman, and then quickly hits his pass rush move to force the quarterback to move in the pocket.
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Against the run here, Collins shows off some of his power. Like recently drafted defensive end Charles Tapper, Collins has long arms. He uses them to his advantage here. Collins gets separation from the offensive lineman, knocks him off his track and drives him into the backfield.
The ability to defeat the reach block is extremely important in a defensive lineman, and Collins does a great job of it here by attacking the offensive lineman's outside shoulder and winning at the point of attack.
Make or find animated gifs like Maliek Collins DT #7 Nebraska Cornhuskers vs Miami Hurricanes on gifs.com
One of my favorite traits about Collins is his explosive first step. This play is the perfect example of his great get-off. It almost looks like Collins knows the snap count as he blows by the offensive lineman as soon as the ball is snapped. He is unable to get home on this play, but still, that is a heck of a first step.
Make or find animated gifs like DL Maliek Collins October 10 2015 on gifs.com
Here is that explosive first step again. Collins gets off the ball and beats the backside guard across his face so quickly. Collins can make a living with his quickness on slants and stunts, shooting through gaps and making plays.
One recurring problem I noticed while watching Collins is that when the offensive lineman is able to get his hands on Collins, it's over. Because of his athleticism, it's difficult for the offensive lineman to lock up with him, but when they do he shows almost no ability to power through or shed the block.
Collins tries to use his athleticism too much in these situations, and can get bullied a bit for it. This also points to a lack of strength on the line of scrimmage, particularly against the run. He should be able to improve upon this base strength in the NFL, however, to help him become more of an anchor in the run defense. To be quite honest, he has to get stronger in order to be a consistent run defender.
Collins screams 3-technique for the Cowboys.
Yes, he has his flaws and a bit of rawness that almost any rookie will have, but under the coaching and tutelage of the Cowboys staff he can become a productive starter in this league.
Another problem I have noticed, and you can probably notice through the clips, is that while he does wreak a lot of havoc in backfields, he does fail to finish on a good amount of his opportunities.
How serious is this problem? It is difficult to say after only watching four games, but it is something I noticed.
If he comes into camp and shows the staff enough right off the bat, I do wonder if there is a chance he is your opening day starter as the 3-tech, while Crawford moves outside due to the lack of defensive ends, and his own versatility.
But, if I had to choose today, Crawford and Thornton would be my starting defensive tackles with Terrell McClain and Maliek Collins seeing time rotationally. In time, Collins can certainly overtake McClain, especially considering McClain's injury history.
Maliek Collins may not have been a flashy pick, but he fits the Cowboys defensive scheme perfectly.
Why The Cowboys Shouldn’t Draft a Guard in the First Round
With the 19th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys are in what some call an "awkward spot" to choose a player. As a team with both offensive and defensive needs, it'll all depend on how the board falls and who's still available once they're on the clock.
They can go ahead and find this team's next number one wide receiver, look for a young linebacker for the future, draft a defensive tackle to upgrade the front seven or they can use their first-round pick to continue to build on their already elite offensive line.
Recently, my colleague Brian Martin wrote about how upgrading the left guard position should be the Cowboys' top priority in this Draft. A large amount of fans, writers and analysts feel the same way. Even still, I truly believe that Dallas may be better off addressing a different position in the first round this time around.
However, it'd be foolish not to admit that once Draft Day arrives, if Dallas ends up taking someone to instantly solidify that great offensive line to keep Dak Prescott clean and make holes for Ezekiel Elliott, the pick would simply make sense.
It's hard to imagine how things will turn out, but it's very likely that once the Cowboys' turn comes, the best player available will be a guard. There will be a lot of talent there. Isaiah Wynn and Will Hernandez will probably still be on the board, for instance.
Also, the front office has done a very good job at drafting offensive linemen. In the past recent years, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin have been one of the main reasons for this team's offensive success.
There are many reasons to believe that OG is the way to go, but I can't help wondering...
Drafting a guard at 19 is the safe pick... but is it the right one?
This is an important question. We all know that taking a guard is the safe pick, and that if that's the direction they choose to go, they won't miss and whoever they draft will contribute from Day 1 to this team's success.
Unfortunately, anyone who looks at the Cowboys' situation objectively knows that there are some other needs they have to attend to take another step.
They have at least three linemen playing at an elite level. Not to mention La'el Collins, who has the potential to become an elite player as well. Like it or not, we need to include the salary cap into the picture.
According to Over The Cap, Left Tackle Tyron Smith averages $12.2M per year and Center Travis Frederick $9.4M. Enter Zack Martin who is about to get paid the big bucks soon. He's still playing under his rookie contract after Dallas picked up his fifth-year option.
However, a contract extension is expected to arrive this offseason. If we're being honest with ourselves, he will ask for a big amount of money, because he deserves it. Browns' Kevin Zeitler, the highest paid RG right now, earns $12M a year. Martin's numbers will probably be even higher.
If the Cowboys draft a guard, it'll be in order to ensure that this offensive line will work at a high level.
But if you already have Smith, Martin and Frederick, shouldn't it already be working at a high level? Do you really need four first-round picks (La'el Collins would've been a first-round pick if it wasn't for a situation which had nothing to do with him) in your offensive line to be successful?
A guard at 19 makes sense. It's safe. But I'd rather see this team diversify. They did a great job at finding Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis to rebuild the secondary last year. Maybe they can find a DT or a LB who can help this defense go from "solid" to great.
Or maybe, if they're ready to make this a Dak-friendly offense, go get him a fresh wide receiver. Someone who can create separation and get this offense going.
You can bring back Jonathan Cooper, who did a nice job last season or bring in another free agent. They should definitely look for a guard in April, but not in the first round. Unless it's Quenton Nelson, who is arguable the best or second-best player available this year, I hope they go in a different direction.
Upgrading LG Position Should be Cowboys Top Draft Priority
The Dallas Cowboys are quite proud about the offensive line they have put together over the years. Their OL is headlined by three former first-round draft picks who have turned into All-Pro players, and one player who should've been a first-round pick if not for an unfortunate situation that had nothing to do with him that took place during the draft.
This offensive unit is the backbone of the entire Dallas Cowboys team, but some changes need to be made. No, not the personnel per se. Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and La'el Collins will all return to their starting roles, but that only makes up 80% of the unit. Who makes up the other 20% is probably the biggest question that needs to be answered before the 2018 season kicks off.
Yes, I'm talking about the vacancy at the left guard position.
Last season the Dallas Cowboys tried to plug the hole with Chaz Green and Jonathan Cooper. The Green experiment failed miserably and Cooper was serviceable at best. I don't know about you, but I think it's time to find a long-term solution and solidify the best offensive line for years to come.
The best and cheapest way to address the LG position is with one of the Cowboys draft picks.
Sure, the Dallas Cowboys could re-sign Jonathan Cooper to another affordable contract, but I have zero faith he can remain healthy. That's been the knock against him his entire professional career. I was actually surprised he lasted as long as he did in 2017.
With the 19th pick overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys are in a good position to have their choice of the best offensive guards in this draft class. Isaiah Wynn of Georgia, Will Hernandez of UTEP, James Daniels of Iowa, and Billy Price of Ohio State are all players under consideration here.
All four of these players are excellent Cowboys draft targets, and they can't really go wrong with any of them. They all bring a little something different to the table, but each would be an upgrade who would help get this team back on track.
You see, I think finding a new LG is the top Cowboys draft priority. I don't know if there is another position that can be filled by a rookie and contribute more to the team success in 2018.
This is especially true considering what the Cowboys like to do offensively. They want to establish the running game and control the clock. They weren't really able to do that in 2017 due to Tyron Smith's injuries in the revolving door at left guard.
We all saw what happened when they were forced to get away from their bread and butter. This is not an offense that is currently equipped to rely on the passing game to put points on the board. It's just not who they are.
That is why finding a new LG is so important. Not only would it help upgrade the running game, but it would also help keep things going if Tyron Smith continues to struggle with injuries.
It's much easier to plug and play a backup left tackle who can block in the running game than it is to find one who can pass protect as well as Smith.
I know opinions will vary, but I truly believe that it's in everyone's best interest to draft a starting caliber left guard. And if you want to know my opinion, I would do it with their first-round draft pick by taking Will Hernandez.
Do you think LG is the Dallas Cowboys top draft priority?
Cowboys Draft Target: BYU LB Fred Warner
The 2018 NFL Draft class isn't exactly full of difference-making linebackers. At the top of the class sits Roquan Smith, the Georgia LB who many feel is a franchise changer. Then there is Virginia Tech's Tremaine Edmunds, the athletic freak who has risen up draft boards. After the top two, however, there is some confusion about the rest of the class.
My third linebacker would be Alabama's Rashaan Evans, but after watching more tape over the last couple of months, BYU's Fred Warner is LB4 on my board. I recently wrote up a full scouting report on Warner for Slant Sports, in which I detailed what exactly I like about Warner's game.
During his time at BYU Warner doubled as an EDGE defender and off ball linebacker. He often found himself in-line and defending the line of scrimmage, and did a good job when asked to do so. In my opinion, he projects to be a WILL in the NFL, an off-ball linebacker the Cowboys could certainly use.
At 6'3" 235 pounds Warner is a big and fluid athlete who looks extremely comfortable in space. Fred Warner possesses impressive processing ability and the closing speed to come down hill and make plays after reading and recognizing what the offense is doing.
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"On this play we see an example of Fred Warner’s ability to read, react, and close on the ball carrier. Warner stays disciplined in his run fits at first, reading the hats of the linemen as the hole forms. As the runner bounces, Warner begins to break down hill to make the play."
Fred Warner is also rather solid in coverage. Considering his length and quickness, Warner can cover a lot of ground in zone coverage. Every now and then he made some splashy type plays in coverage as well, such as this one against UCLA.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
"Warner gets into his drop smoothly here, reading his keys and processing the play in front of him. Then, as soon as the quarterback lets go of the ball, Warner jumps on the route and makes a great play on the ball. Considering his size, this is an outstanding rep from Fred Warner."
So where would the Cowboys have to take Warner? By my estimation, 81st overall is the sweet spot for Fred Warner. There are a lot of decent linebacker prospects bunched together late day two and early day three, but I think Warner has separated himself from the pack.
I believe Warner is a better prospect than a Josey Jewell or Leighton Vander Esch, despite the love they have been getting during this draft season. I understand those who would say someone like Jewell better fits what the Cowboys need in a MIKE linebacker, but Fred Warner's hybrid versatility and skills at WILL make him very valuable as well.
The Cowboys could use some depth at linebacker, and Fred Warner would immediately provide that for Dallas. And, depending on the health of Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, Warner may be asked to play a lot during his rookie season.
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