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La’el Collins Move to RT is Cowboys’ Best Option for 2017

Position changes are far more common in Madden than the real NFL, but they can happen. This year, it looks like the Cowboys will “edit” La’el Collins and switch him from left guard to right tackle. If they’re like me, they’ll also add about five points to Strength and change his Development trait to “Superstar.”

The other day, fellow staff writer Brian Martin asserted that Collins’ move to right tackle is a mistake. Brian made several solid points to back up his opinion, but I find myself on the other side of this issue. If you haven’t already, I invite you to read his article and then come back to check out my counterpoints.

La'el Collins
La’el Collins (James D. Smith via AP)

“I’m a firm believer that La’el Collins’ best position in the NFL is at offensive guard. In fact, if not for the foot injury that wiped out nearly his entire 2016 season, he likely would have been named to his first Pro Bowl.”

I actually don’t disagree with Collins’ best position being guard. However, I disagree with the premise that this means it’s the only position he should play.

Offensive and defensive lines are all about stability. Their effectiveness is often a composite of the ability of all players involved. You can say the same of most NFL positions but it’s especially true here, where one weak spot can quickly undermine the entire group.

Consider the Cowboys’ defensive line. The lack of a single catalytic pass rusher has neutered that group for several seasons. They’re trying to find one guy who can consistently make opponents nervous and create more opportunities for everyone else.

Similarly, a liability on the offensive line can be damning. We have seen this too often with Doug Free‘s penalties or breakdowns in pass protection. Big plays getting called back for flags kills the effort of 10 other guys, and often the drive itself. All it takes is one loose pass rusher to blow up a drive and maybe your quarterback.

The Cowboys aren’t making this move for the fun of it. They must see Collins as the best option at right tackle or else they’d leave him where he is. It’s about preserving the greatness of the offensive line from one end to the other.

La'el Collins
La’el Collins in his college days, where he played offensive tackle.

“I think at best, Collins is probably an average right tackle in the NFL. I’m not even sure if he will be an upgrade over Doug Free. Collins couldn’t unseat Free before, but now he’s the best option?”

This is probably where I disagree most with Brian’s logic. Doug Free, 31-years-old in the in 2015 offseason, was a better player than Doug Free last year at age 33. And really, was Collins ever really considered as a potential Free replacement? Was competition even open at right tackle, with Free coming off a record-breaking season for the Cowboys running game?

La’el got moved to guard for the same reason that we just discussed; he is likely a more dominant player there than at tackle. However, it was also based on the circumstances of the team at the time. Doug Free was a fixture and leader, while Ronald Leary was a guy with ticking time bombs in his knees and a shorter contract. At that point, the more immediate need for Collins was at guard.

“Chaz Green was drafted to take over for Doug Free. He is likely the best option if he can remain healthy.”

Remember, Collins became a first-round draft prospect playing offensive tackle at LSU. Chaz Green was a third-round pick that many felt was a reach. Collins’ pedigree is superior, so assuming Green is better suited to play the position now is faulty.

We have seen that La’el Collins is very athletic and has the physical skills to play tackle. He may need work on his technique, but that’s why you make the move now instead of being forced into it later in the offseason, or even during the regular season. Get him comfortable and solidified at tackle now so that one position, left guard, is your only real question mark.

Ronald Leary
G Ronald Leary

“Collins is the only player on the Cowboys roster who can play left guard and improve the position after Ronald Leary’s departure. Anyone else is probably a downgrade…”

I’m not here to bash Leary, but I think it’s easy to overestimate how hard he’ll be to replace. Much of Leary’s success came from being part of this great line and positioned between maybe the best left tackle and center in the entire league.

Don’t get me wrong; Leary had ability. He went undrafted in 2012 because of the fear about his knees and was likely a mid-round pick otherwise. Leary was way better than most undrafted players.

Still, is it that hard to imagine Jonathan Cooper having success in his place? Cooper, a former seventh-overall pick in 2013, has bounced around the league because of health problems and difficulty finding the right fit. There is no easier spot to play left guard in the NFL than between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, so could this be where he finally gets to settle in and realize his potential?

Cooper is still just 27 and was once a coveted draft prospect by most teams, including the Cowboys. The same coaches and scouts who liked him four years ago are here now, which is why Cooper landed in Dallas to begin with.

The same logic goes for Byron Bell, Emmett Cleary, or even Chaz Green. Simply, guard is an easier position than tackle. Even the great Cowboys line of the 90s had John Gesek, a former 10th-round pick, starting for two Super Bowls championships.

~ ~ ~

Obviously, this is mostly conjecture and speculation at this point. We’re basing analysis on the unseen; be it Collins’ ability to play NFL tackle or Cooper, Green, and anyone else’s ability to be a full-time starter with this line. Training camp and preseason will give us way more evidence on which to base more substantive opinions.

Dallas will continue to tweak and experiment with different lineups to find the best five guys for 2017. Three positions are set and we know La’el Collins will occupy one of the other two. However it shakes out, Dallas has given themselves good options to maintain the greatness of their offensive line as the foundation for championship contention.

What do you think?

Jess Haynie

Written by Jess Haynie

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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