Dallas Cowboys: Why Maliek Collins has a career season in ’18

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 30: Maliek Collins #96 of the Dallas Cowboys pursues a scrambling Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins in the first quarter of a football game at AT&T Stadium on November 30, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 30: Maliek Collins #96 of the Dallas Cowboys pursues a scrambling Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins in the first quarter of a football game at AT&T Stadium on November 30, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Maliek Collins has finally made it onto the field for the Dallas Cowboys, here’s why we can already tell he’s in store for a career season

Two years ago, Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle, Maliek Collins, was considered one of the most promising interior defenders in the NFL. In his first year with Rod Marinelli, Collins played 662 total snaps and led all rookie defensive tackles with 27 total pressures.

And while the official NFL score keepers say he had five sacks (an impressive number for a rookie interior defender), Pro Football Focus (subscription required) credits him with six sacks – which ranked him eighth among all DTs in the NFL.

It’s pretty safe to say Maliek Collins’ rookie campaign was a wild success in 2016, even by the most critical of definitions.

But then something happened. In Collins’ sophomore year in Dallas he statistically cratered. Playing 684 snaps, Collins was only able to sniff the production he had a season before. Pressures dropped, hits dropped, and sacks fell to 2.5.

Suddenly the future didn’t seem so bright for the once-promising star. So what happened and why are feeling so optimistic about this season?

Many of us know, not all defensive tackle positions are created equal. The under tackle, who lines up at the 3-technique spot, plays a much different role than the nose tackle, who lines up at the 1-technique spot.

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The under tackle is a playmaker, put in position to make plays. While the nose tackle is grinder, put in position to occupy space. Sure, Rod Marinelli lets his 1-techs 1-gap more than most coordinators do, but it’s still a blue collar position that traditionally suffers in that stat column.

All of this is important to understand because Maliek Collins played one position his rookie season (go ahead – guess) and the other position in his second season (yup). It should really be no wonder why he didn’t perform as well in his second year.

The good news is the Dallas Cowboys appear to be giving him a try back at that 3-technique under tackle spot this year.

Halfway through training camp, two players have risen up and seized that 1-tech role. While Collins has been rehabbing, Antwaun Woods and Brian Price have been making a name for themselves at the nose tackle. Woods has been a constant thorn in All-Pro Travis Frederick’s side and Price has flashed stoutness as well as splash ability.

These performances allow the Dallas Cowboys to undo the mistake they made last year and move Collins BACK to the 3-tech. And according to Clarence Hill, that’s exactly what’s happening:

The 2018 campaign didn’t kickoff the way many of us were hoping it would have for Maliek. Foot surgery delayed his start to training camp and only now has he made an appearance on the field. But this is all eerily similar to his rookie season when he missed all of training camp with a foot injury and still delivered the best interior performance of all rookie linemen.

In fact, Collins only played five preseason snaps in 2016 and didn’t even seize a starting role until week 3. Frankly, he’s ahead of the curve right now.

Eventually, we all hope to welcome David Irving back at some point after Week 4 (suspension). But his return is far from a sure thing considering the gravity of his off-the-field struggles. The Dallas Cowboys need to get the best players on the field now and Maliek Collins is the best 3-tech on this roster right now.

Even if Irving returns (and I believe he will), Collins is better served playing in a rotation with Irving at 3-tech since Irving has always played better when playing on a snap count.

Note: The Dallas Cowboys usually only use a traditional 1-tech once per three downs. When they go to nickel they often use two 3-techs. So it’s perfectly possible to see both Irving and Collins playing 3-tech this season and both also logging starter level snap counts.

If Collins was strong at the 1-tech this may be a harder case to be made, but Collins struggled mightily there against the run in 2017 (and did little to help against the pass). With Woods and Price looking so strong in his stead, Dallas would be wise to permanently move Collins back to the position they drafted him for, because that’s where he’s at his best and that’s where he can make the biggest impact in 2018.

The Dallas Cowboys have what is arguably the best defensive line they’ve had in a decade. The edge rushers look dominant and even the 1-techs look nasty. When Collins lines up at under tackle he’s lining up next to the best players he’s ever lined up with – virtually guaranteeing limited double-teams.  That’s why a career year is coming his way.

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Whether or not Maliek Collins stays at 3-tech remains to be seen but the case is clearly laid out for why he should move to under tackle and never look back.

  • Published on 08/17/2018 at 12:01 PM
  • Last updated at 08/17/2018 at 10:15 AM