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.
Maliek Collins vs Iowa 2014
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.
Maliek Collins vs Iowa 2014
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.
Maliek Collins DT #7 Nebraska Cornhuskers vs Miami Hurricanes
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.
DL Maliek Collins October 10 2015
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.