This is part of my series to study film of each of the Cowboys' 2016 draft picks who were not covered before the draft. Today is the third-round pick, Maliek Collins. We will follow the template from the 50 profiles done before the draft in the early spring.
I have never been a scout or a NFL general manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can. To read more about the 2016 NFL Draft Project, click here.
The Cowboys entered the draft determined to get better on the defensive line and while they did not spend any of their currency in the 1st or 2nd rounds, they decided in the end to keep the 3rd and 4th round picks for this purpose. The historical record will show that in potential trades up for Paxton Lynch they flirted with trading a 3rd and then a 4thwhich might have cost them the QB of the future, but in the debates to not "overpay," they would discuss how the defense will suffer if they were to go RB and QB and then not pick again until Day 3.
Collins was always a target for the Cowboys at pick #67, according to my sources. They always viewed him as a player that should get to them and as one they really coveted at that spot in the draft. That is important for us to remember when so much of the rest of the draft seemed to be snagged right in front of their pick (Ogbah in the 2nd, Connor Cook in the 4th). This guy was on their radar and targeted by their defensive personnel as someone they wanted to secure.
Maliek is a team captain and a guy who was a real big part of the Nebraska defense over the last two seasons. In 2014, with Randy Gregory on the front attracting plenty of attention, Collins had a much more productive campaign, with 2015 offering plenty more occasions of double-teams and watching the inside tackles.
I spent the last few mornings watching a few hundred snaps from each of the two years to see what has the Cowboys so excited. It is reasonable to assume they were locked in on him from their original Gregory work 18 months ago.
What I liked: Collins is built quite thick, but possesses an explosive quickness that is both rare and appealing. When you study the draft game, it is easy to paint certainly body sizes with a similar brush, because it is extremely rare to find a defensive tackle that might be able to move like a linebacker in certain respects. But, Collins checks all of the boxes when you are looking for "Force Players" -- a metric that is calculated based on several combine measureables that seek players with quick explosiveness -- and he penetrates with purpose. He is clearly seen as a top 3-technique in this draft from a tools standpoint. He also possesses great strength in his lower body and when you combine that quickness with thighs that can squat nearly 800 pounds, you have the guy you want in the trenches. He has light feet, a fine motor, and keeps playing when the play is away from him. One thing he does that you never see from a man his size is he will occasionally stand up and rush as if he is a linebacker. It is beyond odd for a player over 310, yet he looks natural. The top video below is #7 Collins lined up as a middle LB on the rush.
What I did not like: For all his great athleticism, it would be disingenuous to not investigate why he wasn't a top 50 selection. It appears to be for 2 basic reasons. One, he looks a little stiff at times and while that is hard to say for a player who just turned 21, we often see that being the difference between exceptional players and ordinary. Ordinary players can be neutralized simply because of not being able to work out of stalemates with some ability to wiggle through small cracks in the line. He shows he can do it at times, but gets hung up a bit too much for my tastes. But, I imagine the biggest thing that holds him back at this point of his career is simple production. A player with his skill set should have been more productive in 13 games for Nebraska, than 2.5 sacks and 7 tackles for loss. He is too quick and spends too much time in the defensive backfield for this curious lack of statistics to verify his dominance. What is interesting when watching him is that the player is constantly in the backfield with a chance to make a play. So, the obvious question is: "Will that be the type of player he is -- constantly close to making plays, but not actually making them?" Or, do the Cowboys assume that they know how to develop him to close those deals? It is clear that most players aren't on the scene repeatedly like Collins. So, he is separated from that group, but he also should not be put in the group of guys who have 8 sacks and 16 TFLs, because he hasn't earned that right. He is in the 3rd and middle group of promising moments, but still a bit of a work in progress.
Summary and potential fit with the Cowboys: I think I just said it in the paragraph above -- he flashes. He definitely has those traits that you want, and he is a high character player who also possesses that thirst for making plays when the initial moment passes. High motor and high character with a full toolbox explains why the Cowboys moved Collins to the top of their list when Jaylon Smith went off the board and never had to deviate much from that name. They got their guy.
Now, Rod Marinelli, who is incredibly particular about who he wants and what he wants to do with him, sees Collins as a pure 3-technique play who has the traits to be that coveted 3-down inside player who can rush the passer, destroy run plays with penetration, and spend plenty of time in the offensive backfield rerouting running plays and moving QBs off their throwing spots.
He also will get plenty of chances to play early as the talks continue about Tyrone Crawford sliding outside in September as the team deals with their DE suspension issues. But, when things all snap back into place, they now feel like they have injury cover for Tyrone, a guy who can play with Crawford on passing downs inside, another solid rotation guy, and perhaps a starting 3-technique. The Cowboys are betting on his future and are thinking if they get this right he can be a Top 50 value down at #67. I see what they like, but now wait to see if they can develop him as well as they believe they can. Bottom line -- they have a 310 pound force in the defensive front who should be fun to watch grow into a real pro.