Connect with us

Star Blog

Who Will Be Cowboys Most Improved Defender in 2017?

Sean Martin



Who Will Be Cowboys Most Improved Defender in 2017?

The Dallas Cowboys' defense is set to look entirely different than it did a year ago, with all of the buzz on Rod Marinelli's side of the ball being generated by young and exciting draft picks like Taco Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods, or Marquez White.

The Cowboys' rookie class of 2016 performed so well that the seemingly bold proposition of expecting all these new starters - especially in the secondary - to gel together instantly is warranted. Helping in these young player's transition will be some defensive centerpieces like Sean Lee and Byron Jones.

With LB Sean Lee being a finished product in terms of his development and sustainability, and Byron having also already taken great strides with his game at FS, the question of "who will actually be the Cowboys' most improved defender this season?" is a fascinating one.

My Pick: Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins

Maliek Collins, Redskins

DT Maliek Collins (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Interestingly enough, my decision for this spot came down to two players at the same position - with Maliek Collins beating out veteran and second-year Cowboy Cedric Thornton. Going with a true second-year player reinforces the youth movement for Dallas defensively, and Maliek Collins is set up for a monster season.

Collins emerged as a third round pick to become the Cowboys' starting three technique in 2016, effectively leaving the highly paid Tyrone Crawford without a position. This 3T spot is the focal point of Rod Marinelli's scheme, so finding a younger and more athletic starter there this past season was hardly a negative.

Tyrone Crawford ended up moving to LDE as Collins took hold of the 3T DT spot, a position that I now expect to be filled in 2017 by first-round pick Taco Charlton. This means that the penetrating and rangy athlete in Collins will have even more opportunities to flash playing alongside some rotation of Crawford, Thornton, FA addition Stephen Paea, and eventually David Irving.

All of these tackles should be terrific compliments to Collins, as they'll technically be lining up as the one technique next to Maliek - yet all have the ability to get into the backfield and make plays.

Collins logged more snaps than any of the Cowboys' defensive linemen last season, making up quickly for the time he lost during OTAs and training camp recovering from a broken foot. An injury that was once thought to likely limit Collins' rookie contributions, the Nebraska product translated his college game to the next level with ease.

Beating guards with quickness and power comes easy for Collins, who has taken full advantage of a healthy offseason so far by reportedly continuing to make plays in practice, even against the best guard in football Zack Martin.

When it comes to areas of improvement for Collins in 2017, I'd like to see Maliek transition into his counter moves faster to cleanly beat blockers and chase down plays. The down-the-line efforts from Collins certainly weren't a problem in his rookie campaign, but there were enough snaps where #96 was around the ball but getting stacked up or turned thanks to his initial get off being held inside.

Who Will Be Cowboys Most Improved Defender in 2017? 1

(Paul Spinelli via AP)

To even be talking about a very technical refinement like this for a second-year defensive linemen that will be entering his first training camp with the Cowboys is an amazing feat, especially considering Maliek Collins' draft status.

The Dallas Cowboys' pass rush may not improve vastly this season, but they certainly have no shortage of athletes at all four positions now, led by a natural and developing 3T DT in Maliek Collins.

Tell us what you think about "Who Will Be Cowboys Most Improved Defender in 2017?" in the comments below. You can also email me at, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Pleasant NJ, no we're not how you think we are. Host of "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. You may @ me: @SeanMartinNFL.

  • Dustin Harweger

    I’ve got to go with the g.o.a.t Jeff Heath. He should finally get his chance to start and fully show his ability. Even tho his snaps will be fewer than Maliek or even Byron (due to heaths ST snaps) I believe he will show he belongs and develop into a playmaker and star for this Defense. I can’t wait!

    • Sean Martin

      This is a really good pick actually, Dustin. Like you, I am fully expecting Heath to take a big step up and not only earn the snaps he deserves but make the most of them by helping this entire secondary make more plays on the ball. Going to be a lot of fun, thanks for reading!

      (If you’re interested, I wrote more on Heath as well right here:

  • John Williams

    I agree with you Sean. Maliek will be the force we’ve been looking for in the middle since the witch to the 4-3.

    My honorable mention is Anthony Brown. His 2016 has me psyched for 2017.

    • Sean Martin

      I legitimately think Brown doesn’t have many areas that he needs to improve on, he’ll only need to repeat his 2016 performance to do his job. Which is why I went with Collins. Love the honorable mention though.

      • John Williams

        Yeah, I agree with Collins, but also think he showed a ton in the second half of 2016. He even has me interested in seeing him and Crawford line up next to each other on passing downs to get the best out of their best 3-techs.

Star Blog

Should Cowboys Reunite Shea McClellin With Rod Marinelli?

Brian Martin



Should Cowboys Reunite Shea McClellin With Rod Marinelli?

Since becoming the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, Rod Marinelli hasn't had too many of his former players follow him to Dallas. In fact, I can only think of one… Henry Melton, and we all know how that turned out.

I don't know about you, but I found that a little strange. It's pretty common for coaches to try to bring some of their players with them when they accept a new job. Familiarity goes a long way in the NFL and former players can also help make the transition easier for everyone.

Strangely enough, Rod Marinelli hasn't really been afforded that luxury, whether it was his doing or not. But, there is a free agent who played under Marinelli's tutelage in Chicago who might make sense for the Dallas Cowboys, linebacker Shea McClellin.

Rod Marinelli was the defensive coordinator in Chicago when the Bears decided to draft Shea McClellin 19th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. Marinelli likely had a big say in that decision, and if he still feels the same, a reunion could be in order.

Shea McClellin started his career in the NFL as a 4-3 left side defensive end playing opposite Julius Peppers, but was also viewed as a potential Brian Urlacher replacement. He showed flashes of becoming a solid defensive end his first few years in the league, but was eventually moved to linebacker, where he seemed to find a home for himself.

Shea McClellin

New England Patriots LB Shea McClellin

After his contract expired with the Bears, the New England Patriots decided to bring him aboard to help with their linebacker depth. He only ended up starting four games for them in 2016, but made some memorable plays to help the Patriots become the Super Bowl champions.

Unfortunately, the 2017 season wasn't very kind to him. His entire year was wiped out due to a concussion, which probably had a lot to do with why they recently released him.

This of course could be good news for the Dallas Cowboys. They currently need some depth at the linebacker position and Shea McClellin could provide that, if he's healthy. The healthy bit here is key, because he has had problems with concussions in the past.

If McClellin is indeed healthy, he could bring a versatile skill set to the Cowboys defense. His best spot is probably at strong side LB (SAM), but I think he could play middle linebacker (MIKE) as well. He also could provide depth at defensive end, the position he played to start his NFL career.

With the LB depth a concern, Shea McClellin makes quite a bit of sense for the Dallas Cowboys. Of course, his past history with concussions is a red flag, but it also drives down his asking price. I think he would definitely fall into that "bargain shopping" mentality the Cowboys have been using these last few offseasons.

He probably wouldn't be viewed as a very important signing, but you still need these types of players on your team in order to succeed in the NFL. Let's see if the Dallas Cowboys agree.

Do you think a Rod Marinelli and Shea McClellin reunion is in order?

Continue Reading

Star Blog

Redskins Have Not Had Success With Former Cowboys

Jess Haynie



Redskins Have Not Had Success With Former Cowboys

Now that he's signed with the Washington Redskins, cornerback Orlando Scandrick joins a lackluster list of former Cowboys players and coaches who have gone from Dallas to its historic rival. The history of these moves is ugly for Washington, going back over 40 years, and can't have their fans too excited anytime they sign an ex-Cowboy.

The most recent example was just last year with defensive tackle Terrell McClain. After a strong season as a 15-game starter in Dallas, McClain got a four-year, $21 million deal to join the Redskins. He missed four games with injuries and was only credited with two starts; hardly what the team wanted given the money they paid.

Before him it was Jason Hatcher, whose 11-sack season for the Cowboys in 2013 got him a four-year, $27.5 million deal from Washington. Hatcher would battle knee injuries for two season, getting only 7.5 sacks from 2014-2015. His early retirement in 2016 brought an abrupt end to a disappointing tenure.

Continuing the legacy of defensive linemen was Stephen Bowen, who Washington paid a shocking amount of money ($27.5 million over five years) to in 2011 to pick up in free agency. Bowen had a great first year for the Redskins with six sacks and 16 starts, but injuries would soon cost him 14 games from 2013-2014. He was eventually released after only one standout season in four with the team.

Going back even further, DT Brandon Noble joined Washington in 2003 after being a full-time starter for Dallas for over two seasons. He would miss all of 2003 with a knee injury, have an unimpressive year in 2004, and then missed all of 2005 with more health issues. He retired after being released by the Redskins in 2006.

Redskins Have Not Had Success With Former Cowboys 1

Hall of Fame CB Deion Sanders

Orlando Scandrick won't be the first cornerback to go from Dallas to Washington, or the best. At age 32, Deion Sanders was released in 2000 by the Cowboys and then got a huge seven-year, $56 million deal from the Redskins. This came less than a year after Daniel Snyder bought the franchise and was desperate to get them relevant again.

The Sanders move backfired horribly. Even after a solid season by his lofty standards, Primetime was disgruntled with both the coaching staff and his increasing struggles as an aging player. He suddenly retired after just one season of the seven-year contract.

Washington also tried to tap into the Cowboys' glory days when they signed receiver Alvin Harper in 1997. Harper had left Dallas in 1995 and spent two years with Tampa Bay, but had not carried over the same success he enjoyed playing in the Dallas offense.

The Redskins hoped that reuniting him with Norv Turner, who had been Harper's offensive coordinator and was now their head coach, would help Alvin get back to form. But between ongoing injuries and the absence of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Emmitt Smith as teammates, Alvin Harper was never the same guy as when he won two Super Bowls in Dallas.

The failed poaching attempts go back many more decades, another one being running back Calvin Hill. The fourth-leading rusher in Cowboys history and a four-time Pro Bowler while in Dallas, Hill joined Washington in 1976. He served as a backup only, averaging only 3.8 yards-per-carry as he played behind the likes of Mike Thomas and John Riggins.

Redskins Have Not Had Success With Former Cowboys 2

Norv Turner also couldn't bring his Cowboys success to Washington. (Brian Bahr/Allsport)

The bad history doesn't stop with players. The aforementioned Norv Turner, who was one of the hottest assistant coaches in history after the Cowboys first two Super Bowl wins in the 90s, was hired as the Redskins' head coach in 1994.

Turner's run started with a whimper, drafting quarterback Heath Shuler third overall in that first year. Shuler would go down as one of the biggest QB busts in NFL history

Norv's Redskins never seemed to recover from that blunder. He only had two winning seasons and one playoff appearance from 1994-1999, and was fired midway through the 2000 season.

Far more recently, Cowboys offensive line coach Bill Callahan left the team in 2015 and took the same job in Washington. He didn't get to bring the offensive line or DeMarco Murray with him, though. As such, the Redskins have remained one of the league's worst rushing teams for the last three seasons. They fell to a new low of 28th in the NFL in 2017.

~ ~ ~

Of course, none of this means that Orlando Scandrick won't have success in Washington. But with the Redskins generally the most mismanaged team in the NFC East, all of the Dallas players and coaches who've gone there have not walked into good situations. For all that Cowboys fans love to complain about Jerry Jones, he handles the owner and GM roles better than any pair Washington's had in almost 30 years.

Given the nature of the rivalries, we naturally can't wish success for Scandrick or anyone else who leaves Dallas for a division opponent. With the track record we just discussed for Washington, it's not something I'll be losing any sleep over.

Continue Reading

Star Blog

Xavier Woods, the Real Reason Cowboys Didn’t Pursue Tyrann Mathieu?

Brian Martin



Cowboys Have Their Version of Tryann Mathieu in Xavier Woods?

It's not uncommon for Dallas Cowboys fans to zero in on certain free agents in hopes that they will bring their talents to America's Team. In fact, just about any "big name" player to hit the open market is often linked to the Cowboys in some way or another. That was the case when the Arizona Cardinals decided to move on from Tyrann Mathieu.

Once Tyrann Mathieu became available, Cowboys fans immediately wanted to see him with a star on his helmet. But, despite the fans petitioning, the Cowboys brass seemed to show almost zero interest in the former Cardinal.

The decision to not pursue Tyrann Mathieu certainly didn't sit well with a lot of Cowboys Nation, but I think it was the right decision.

Despite Mathieu's perceived talents and youth (he's just 25), the Cowboys weren't interested in paying the price to bring him to Dallas, especially since they already have a similar player on their roster.

Xavier Woods

Dallas Cowboys DB Xavier Woods

It may sound crazy, but I think the real reason the Dallas Cowboys didn't show much interest in Tyrann Mathieu is because of Xavier Woods.

I honestly believe Xavier Woods and Tyrann Mathieu have a similar skill set. Both players are little undersized to be a full-time safety in the NFL, but each of them have the versatility to play several different roles in the secondary.

Mathieu may have been listed as a safety on the Arizona Cardinals roster, and now the Houston Texans, but the truth is he played mostly out of the nickel/slot in his professional and collegiate career. That is where he is at his best, and the same can be said about Xavier Woods.

As a rookie, Xavier Woods showed his versatility with the Dallas Cowboys by playing a variety of different roles in the secondary. His versatility was one of the reasons the Cowboys decided to trade up in last year's draft to acquire his services.

His name might not carry the same kind of weight as Tyrann Mathieu right now around the league or amongst NFL fans, but I don't think Xavier Woods is that much of a drop off talent wise.

Xavier Woods

Dallas Cowboys DB Xavier Woods (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Personally, I believe Mathieu is starting to decline a little as a player. I think injuries are starting to take a toll on his play, although it may be minimal. I actually prefer Xavier Woods' upside, especially when you take into account the difference in salaries between the two.

Surprisingly enough, Xavier Woods might just have been more productive in 2017 then Mathieu. Woods started just four games and finished the season with 42 tackles, three passes defensed, and one interception. Mathieu on the other hand started all 16 games and accumulated 78 tackles, one quarterback sack, one forced fumble, and two interceptions.

As you can see, Xavier Woods was almost just as productive as Mathieu in nearly a third of the playing time. What's even more impressive about this is that Woods accomplish this as a rookie.

Of course, all of this is speculation, but I for one am not all that upset the Dallas Cowboys missed out on Tyrann Mathieu. I'm willing to bet on Xavier Woods being able to do everything Mathieu can and at a fraction of the cost.

Were the Cowboys right not to pursue Tyrann Mathieu?

Continue Reading

Reader Survey

Want to help make Inside The Star better?

We’re collecting feedback from our readers about the site. It only takes <2 minutes to complete, and can be done from any device.

> Take the survey now

Don’t worry, your information will not be shared with anyone but me (Bryson T.).

Enjoy 40% commissions on officially licensed products as a FanPrint affiliate. You can even make your own, fully licensed Cowboys and player designs! Get started here