Dallas Cowboys’ defensive tackle Maliek Collins has already made his case as being one of the top defensive players on the team’s no-name defense.
The 2016 Dallas Cowboys defense surprised people last season, and finished the year ranked 14th in total defense despite not fielding a single Pro-Bowler until Sean Lee was selected as an injury replacement (that’s not to say Lee wasn’t totally deserving of his selection, because he was absolutely snubbed in the first place).
It’s clear Sean Lee is the backbone of the unit, but it’s totally up for debate who’s the best player outside the play-making weakside linebacker. One guy who you can certainly make a case for is second year defensive tackle Maliek Collins, who worked his way into the starting lineup last season and played exceptionally well all year long.
Collins, who was a third round pick of the ‘Boys last season, wasn’t initially expected to have as large of a role as he did last season. The Cowboys had signed former Eagles tackle Cedric Thornton to pair with incumbent three-technique Tyrone Crawford.
However, with the slew of injuries and suspensions along the defensive line, Crawford was subsequently moved to defensive end, which opened the door for Collins to earn snaps at DT.
Collins made the most of his opportunity, and eventually made it into the starting lineup in Week three after showing vast improvement with increased playing time. Collins originally started at the one-technique, before moving over to the three spot to better take advantage of his pass-rushing capabilities.
Collins finished the 2016 regular season with five sacks and a forced fumble, and also proved to be one of the most consistent players on a defensive line that ranked first against the run.
The Cowboys’ second year man has said he has worked hard in the offseason, and apparently it has shown. According to DallasCowboys.com, Collins has been the only player to give All-Pro right guard Zack Martin trouble during minicamp.
"The one guy that is able to give Zack Martin trouble is Maliek Collins,” wrote Bryan Broaddus on the team’s official website recently. “It’s rare that you see Martin get knocked off balance against power, but that’s what Collins was able to do during the Team Period. When Collins can get his hands inside first, he’s going to win because of his upper body power. Where Martin was able to counter Collins was with a powerful punch of his own, which forced him to have to restart his rush, limiting his ability to get to Prescott."
If Maliek Collins can show a marked improvement from year one to year two, there’s no doubt he’ll be considered a cornerstone of the Dallas Cowboys’ defense. And as one of the only three down players on the defense, he may just be the second best on the squad period.