The 2015 draft for the Dallas Cowboys featured a rare thing. After taking Byron Jones in the first round, the team got Randy Gregory in the second when he slid due to concerns about his failed drug tests. More remarkably, the Cowboys signed La'el Collins after he went undrafted due to being linked to a tragic murder that he turned out to have no role in. All three were considered to be first-round talents prior to the draft.
The team had high hopes for all of them. While Jones saw action from the beginning, Gregory was injured in the first game of the season, and Collins was not called on early after Ronald Leary kept his starting job at left guard. But with the struggles Leary had early in the season due to lingering injury problems, Collins became the starter for the New York Giants game, and Gregory came back from his injury. For the first time, fans got to see all three of them on the field in the same game. It looks like all three may have very big roles for the team going forward.
Collins is already the biggest contributor. He played all 73 of the team's offensive snaps against New York, and acquitted himself well. He was not perfect, but could be seen making some key blocks during the game. And according to at least one source, he is already one of the best guards in the league.
When you have the number one guard, Zack Martin, who is just in his second season, joined by the 21st best guard, a rookie who has only seen significant playing time in two games so far, then things are indeed looking up for your offensive line. The line had struggled for the first five games of the season, but against the Giants they suddenly looked like the dominant unit they were in 2014, clearing the way for 233 rushing yards and only allowing one sack, which lost no yards, and six hits on Matt Cassel. Leary was more limited than we may have realized and it looks like Collins may be the fix the line needed.
Jones played on 40 of the 53 defensive plays for Dallas, or 75%. It looked like he was used exclusively as a safety, a role many had thought he might be more suited for, and it is interesting to note that J.J. Wilcox saw 41 plays and Barry Church was used for 39. Jones was tied for second on the team in tackles with seven, and added two passes defended, making him the only Dallas player with more than one. And he came within an inch or two of making an athletic interception when the ball just grazed the turf before bouncing off his foot and into the air where he tracked it down. He is clearly one of the top six defensive backs, and given that the Cowboys play much more in the nickel, that gives Jones a significant role on the team. Look for that role to grow as he becomes more experienced.
Gregory only played on eight downs for the entire game as the team elected to work him back in slowly. But despite him seeing limited time, and only playing roughly a quarter and a half in the first game of the season, he is already making his presence known.
QB pressures: DeMarcus Lawrence 11 Tyrone Crawford 10 Jeremy Mincey 9 Greg Hardy 7 Jack Crawford 5 Randy Gregory 5— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 27, 2015
As his ankle gets stronger and he gains experience, he is also going to become more important in the rotation of defensive linemen.
It was just the first game for all three to be part of the effort on the field, but the production is already there. If they all stay healthy (knock on all the wood you can find), they are just going to continue to pay dividends. The Cowboys are trying everything they can to snap out of the current losing streak, and the three "first-round talents" could be key parts of finding a way to do that.