All of Cowboys Nation has entered the 2017 offseason with one goal on their mind: find a pass rusher.
The Dallas Cowboys, who's only true edge rusher in Randy Gregory will be suspended for all of next season, are expected to draft at least one defensive end this April. Already having one of the league's top offenses, everybody understands where the Cowboys' holes are and what must be done to fill them.
With that being said, the Cowboys defensive line is far from a complete lost-cause. In 2016, multiple young rushmen emerged and showed that they could sustain a high level of play throughout the entire season.
At the top of that list is former Nebraska defensive tackle Maliek Collins.
Collins was forced to miss just about every offseason activity the Cowboys had due to a foot injury. But when he was finally healthy and ready to go, Collins showed flashes of his top-tier tackle potential.
When the Cowboys first drafted Maliek Collins in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, I reviewed his college film and concluded that he could be an impactful 3-technique for Rod Marinelli.
Now, almost a full year later and a full season into Collins' career, my stance on Collins has only been strengthened by his play.
A relentless pass rusher who plays with an incredibly high motor, Collins finished his rookie season with 5 sacks and a forced fumble. For a defensive tackle, 5 sacks is a superb season, and one that could have warranted Collins Defensive Rookie of the Year recognition if he was apart of a better unit.
The above play illustrates my favorite two qualities of Collins' game, his get-off and his hands. Collins possesses a vicious rip move as well as quick swim which help him win against interior offensive linemen. He also does a nice job head faking, and forcing offensive linemen to commit their hands too early. When he sees hands, he is able to swat them away, flip his hips, and get after the quarterback.
Even on plays where Collins may have “lost” initially, his motor and effort get him through. For a defensive tackle, Collins effort is off the charts. He refuses to give up on plays and keeps both his hands and feet active all the way through the whistle.
He is also an extremely athletic player, something that coach Marinelli certainly loves about him. Many times this season Collins chased down run plays and screen passes from behind to make tackles. Moving laterally with quickness and fluidity, Collins looks more like an end than a tackle in open space.
Against the run, Collins combines his athleticism with power to win at the line of scrimmage. Back in week 8 against the Eagles, we see Collins beat the tackle across his face right off the ball with a quick first step and powerful rip. Able to maintain leverage while moving down the line, Collins meets Darren Sproles a yard down field to make the stop short of a first down.
Of course, all of these highlight plays are in the past now, lost in season which ended in disappointment. Still, I believe that Maliek Collins, as well as others such as David Irving, are not getting the credit they deserve by the fans.
The Cowboys do need to vastly improve on certain elements of their defense, defensive end being at the top of that list. If they can add a rusher like Carl Lawson or Takkarist McKinley to the edge with Maliek Collins on the inside pushing the pocket, this defensive line will become one of the youngest and most explosive in the entire league.
Maliek Collins had a fantastic rookie season, one that would be talked about more if it weren't for the Cowboys first and fourth round picks of the same draft. But he is only going to get better, and barring any major injuries, is set to have a breakout season in 2017.