Often referred to as the most dominant unit in all of football, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line features three first round picks and a fourth first-round talent on the starting group. In 2016, they were without one of those four first-round talents, as La’el Collins missed the majority of the season with a torn ligament in his foot.
Collins took over as the starting left guard during the Cowboys seven-game losing skid in 2015. With neither the running nor passing game working as well as anticipated, head coach Jason Garrett inserted Collins into the lineup looking for a spark.
That spark was delivered, and Collins played the rest of his rookie season at left guard, producing highlight plays like this one just about every week.
PFF has given out the highest grade we give run blockers twice this season, and La’el Collins has both. #Pancakes https://t.co/30GIvcaFJR
Going into 2016, Collins was firmly cemented a top Ronald Leary on the depth chart, and was expected to take a huge step forward in his progression. The fact is, that progression didn’t happen as quickly as we hoped.
Collins struggled in his short-time active in 2016, leading many to wonder just how healthy he was from the get-go. In the season opener, he had troubles with the stud defensive tackles of the New York Giants, getting thrown around at times in pass protection.
He improved week two against the Washington Redskins, and once again showed flashes of the greatness everyone believes he possesses. The following week was his final appearance of 2016, injuring his foot against the Chicago Bears.
The fact of the matter is, when Ronald Leary was in the lineup, the Cowboys offense played much better than when he was not. Leary and All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith had immaculate chemistry on deuce blocks, working up to the second level to clear running lanes for Ezekiel Elliott beautifully.
Now set to get paid somewhere other than Dallas, Leary is on his way out the door, and La’el Collins is back to return to his left guard throne.
The question is, will this injury set Collins’ development back even further?
When healthy, we saw the talent which Collins brings to the table. Strong hands, brute power, and the ability to flatten even the best defenders, La’el has a chance to join his teammates on the All-Pro squad in 2017.
The problems with La’el are mostly technical and mental. In pass protection, he must get more fluid in his kick steps, and learn to power down against inside moves better. He has the size and strength to anchor against bull rushes, but he just needs to become more consistent doing so.
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At times, La’el will initially step with the wrong foot, or go the wrong way in zone blocking. Against the Giants, he sometimes zeroed in on the linebacker he was “supposed” to block, rendering him unable adjust when another defender flashed on his path. He must keep himself square when working to the linebackers, and keep his eyes up at all times.
La’el Collins can do all of this. He is more than capable of improving on his flaws, which are all very coach-able. If he can remain healthy, Collins has a chance to be the fourth Pro-Bowler on the Dallas Cowboys offensive line in 2017.
From tackle to tackle, the Cowboys have the best offensive line in football. La’el Collins will prove to be a valuable part of this unit next season.