Could this young defensive end prospect be the Dallas Cowboys next great undrafted rookie free agent find and earn himself a place on the active roster?
Lost in the spotlighted play of Dallas Cowboys rookies like quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott last season was the performance turned in by their 2016 third round selection, Nebraska defensive tackle Maliek Collins.
Despite missing a majority of offseason training during his rookie campaign due to a broken foot, Collins was still arguably the Cowboys most consistent defender in the trenches last season. The now 22-year old recorded 23 tackles in 2016 and was second on the team in sacks with 5.0.
More importantly, according to Next Gen Stats, Collins lead the league in fastest average time from snap to sack among rookie interior defensive linemen. He averaged a blazing 4.28 seconds as a defensive tackle, which placed him fifth among all interior pass rushers in the NFL.
The point being, Collins was one of the fastest players along the defensive line last season. And according to Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, there is an undrafted rookie free agent currently in camp that has the same kind of quickness.
"“[Neal’s] got some of that Maliek suddenness,” Marinelli told the Dallas Morning News. “That’s what we kind of liked about him. He’ll fill out and get bigger as he goes. I don’t worry about that.”"
The old ball coach is referring to former LSU standout Lewis Neal. Undersized as a defensive end, the 6-foot-2, 272 pound prospect actually led the Tigers in sacks his junior year posting 8.0. And he was known for coming up big in big games.
Although Neal investigated the possibility of leaving for the NFL early, he ultimately decided to go back to LSU for his senior season. But a switch to the 3-4 defense didn’t help his professional cause, as he recorded 60 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks in 2016.
Lewis signed with the Cowboys following April’s NFL Draft, which appears to be fortunate for the undrafted free agent. Dallas has suffered a slew of suspensions at defensive end, with pass rushers Randy Gregory, David Irving and Damontre Moore all serving multiple game bans.
This opens the door for a player like Lewis Neal to be able to earn an active roster spot and prove he belongs on this Dallas Cowboys team. So far, it appears the 22-year old undrafted free agent is making the most of his opportunity.