FRISCO — If asked to name the most impactful members of the Cowboys’ 2018 defense, most
would immediately mention end DeMarcus Lawrence, cornerback Byron Jones or linebackers
Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith.
While all four are deserving, Dallas’ starting tackles — Antwaun Woods and Maliek Collins
— are quickly earning their share of recognition.
Lawrence answered questions at his locker Friday while wearing a T-shirt that had a
caricature of Woods on front with his slogan “Don’t Blink” written across the top and
Woods and Collins anchor the middle of a defensive line that has become one of the NFL’s
best at stopping the run. They performed so well three weeks ago against Philadelphia that
both were given game balls.
It’s become obvious over the last month that their biggest fan inside The Star is defensive
coordinator Rod Marinelli.
“These guys are up field, low center of gravity, good feet, good base, good hips, they
disrupt the line of scrimmage like we want,” Marinelli said. “They’re not sideways guys.
They’re explosive guys up the field. And that starts to disrupt blocking patterns.
With free agency looming in March, roster turnover isn’t far away. However, the majority
of the 2019 roster is already in place. In the coming weeks, DallasCowboys.com will feature
players who are currently under contract for next season, analyzing their past season and
their future prospects.
Today, we continue the series with defensive tackle Maliek Collins.
What’s Been Good: For the third straight season, Collins was a primary starter in the
defensive tackle rotation. He started nine of 13 games and played just under half of the
defense’s total season snaps. Working primarily alongside nose tackle Antwaun Woods,
Collins ranked fourth on defense in pressures (20) and fifth in sacks (3). Overall the
Cowboys fielded one of the league’s best run defenses and tied for the fourth-lowest yards
allowed per carry (3.8).
What’s Been Bad: Collins has shown toughness dealing with injuries since Dallas drafted
him in the third round back in 2016. For the second time in three years, he missed part of
training camp following foot surgery. Then he missed three games in late September/early
October with a sprained knee and popped up on the injury report at points throughout the
2018 Highlight: In Week 6, his first game back from the knee sprain, Collins showed
incredible agility against the Jaguars when he lined up wide – nearly to the edge – and
used the extra space to spin inside and beat guard Andrew Norwell for a sack on quarterback
Blake Bortles. The eight-yard loss forced Jacksonville to punt, part of a scoreless first
half. Not bad for a 308-pound tackle working against a 2017 All-Pro guard.
What’s Next: Collins is entering the final year of his rookie contract, but once again he
’ll be an important part of what Dallas does up front on defense. The 23-year-old is an
impact player when healthy, and the club could look to add more tackle depth to reduce wear
and tear on him, Woods and captain Tyrone Crawford.
Bryan Broaddus’ Bottom Line: Maliek Collins is one of my favorite players to watch when he
’s on. I’d love to see a season where he is completely healthy and practicing full each
week. To his credit he has battled through issues and lined up to play when they’ve needed
him. He was paired nicely with Antwaun Woods this season and was a solid combination
inside, especially when it came to defending the run. Appreciated his ability to not only
play with that first-step quickness but the power he displays when taking on blockers.
Collins is a solid, dependable starter that needs just a little bit more luck on the health
Maliek Collins is about to enter the fourth and final year of his rookie contract. The Cowboys defensive tackle, taken in the third round of the 2016 draft, would love to be considered among Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Jaylon Smith as major stars of that class. But he hasn’t made it so far, and the team’s makeup in 2019 could make things even more difficult.
If he wants to remain a starter this season, Collins will have to compete with veteran Tyrone Crawford and emerging stud Antwaun Woods. He may also need to worry about newly-signed Christian Covington from the Texans, who could blossom as a 4-3 DT as he converts from a 3-4 DE in Houston.
If that wasn’t enough, there is plenty of speculation that Dallas will spend one of its top two picks in this year’s draft at defensive tackle.
With the Cowboys now having DeMarcus Lawrence signed to a long-term deal and acquiring veteran DE Robert Quinn, it would seem that Tyrone Crawford will be fully dedicated to the DT position going forward. There is a strong possibility that Dallas will see Crawford and Antwaun Woods as their top two tackles.
Of course, “starter” is a loose term when it comes to the Cowboys defense. The heavy rotation that Rod Marinelli employs keeps everyone fairly busy.
But for a guy like Maliek Collins, trying to position himself for free agency in 2020, being stuck in a timeshare isn’t ideal. It’s especially troubling if you’re not getting the majority of the available snaps.
With no years left on his contract, Collins may even be a target for a cap-saving move. Dallas could trade or release Maliek for an easy $2 million in cap space, which they might value more than the player by final cuts.
Collins has been a solid player for his three years in Dallas, but circumstances in 2019 are not looking great. Hopefully he can wow the team in training camp this year and at least hold on to his roster spot, if not earning a significant role this season.