When Dawn Macelli and I set out to do this series of posts, we intended to reach out to the college sites of all the Dallas Cowboys rookies from tne NFL draft. We had almost wrapped up the articles, at least as far as getting them drafted and submitted, when Jerry Jones dropped the big blockbuster, signing UDFA La'el Collins.
We decided to team up on this Q&A, because we are sure a lot of Cowboys fans had paid little attention to Collins prior to the draft. Unlike some of the draftees, it was not because he was a lesser-known talent. Rather, everyone assumed there was no way on this green earth that he was going to wind up wearing the Star. Well, never say never in the NFL. We contacted the LSU SBN blog, And The Valley Shook, and their writer Paul Crewe was kind enough to answer these questions for us.
Tom: Obviously, Collins was done wrong in the investigation into the murder of his former girlfriend and her unborn child (and we at BTB pass along our sincere prayers and thoughts for those affected by this horrid tragedy). Can you give us your insight into his real character after his image was clearly damaged during the draft?
Part of what made this story so difficult to watch unfold was that Collins was nothing but an upstanding citizen his entire LSU career. I had the chance to interview him as a HS senior and he was always very polite and thoughtful. He's an Eagle Scout. He was never in any trouble of any sort. Not even the dreaded "dog house" lists you hear about from time to time. He showed up, handled his business, kept his head down and worked hard. When he came back for his senior season, he embraced the role of being a team leader, and many players on the team looked up to him. This didn't just seem to be out of left field, it seemed as if it was a story about an entirely other person.
Dawn: I am particularly interested in Collins' athleticism, particularly his ability to pull from the guard position and get out in front of a running back and lead him down field. Is he quick enough to do this successfully at the NFL level?
I saw Lance Zierlein criticized his athletic ability, and I really scratched my head. I'm not saying he's a freak athlete, but he's plenty capable there. In fact, if you look at his testing times, they measure pretty favorably to another former SEC Alum, and current Pro Bowl LT, Jason Peters. Peters carries more mass, which does play a factor, but Collins has better times in the 3 cone, 20 yard shuttle and agility scores. To me, that would indicates he has plenty enough burst/quickness to pull and trap and get down the field.
Tom: As Dawn intimated, he is likely to be looked at at both the guard and tackle position, and is probably more likely to be an immediate starter if he kicks inside. How do you evaluate his skill set at the next level as far as in which position he will have the better prospects?
I've been saying that I think he could play anywhere on the line. I still think that's true. LT would be the only question mark, but let's be honest, it's an elite subset of men who can play that spot competently, and the Cowboys are set there for the foreseeable future. He plays bigger than his size, so though he's not going to be as big as most interior guys, he plays with a tenacity and toughness that will hold him over fine there. He's a really aggressive player. Perhaps overly aggressive at times, which caused him to fall off blocks a bit last year. I think he'll translate fine at ether guard spot or RT.
Dawn: During this past season Collins faced two of the top pass rushers in the nation. I would be very interested to know how he matched up against Bud DuPree and Dante Fowler.
I will admit, I didn't get to watch the Kentucky game, so I didn't get to evaluate his matchup with DuPree first hand. DuPree finished with seven tackles, but the game was so out of hand, I'm not sure how much you could glean from it one way or the other. LSU pretty much had their way with the Kentucky defense.
Fowler, I did get to see. That was a heavyweight slugfest. Fowler gave him some and Collins gave it right back. Fowler did get a sack, but it was coming off the edge when being picked up by a RB, and even then, only because the QB scrambled in his direction. I don't want to say Collins eliminated Fowler from the game, but there was never a point where I was watching and saying, "Man, Collins is just getting handled by this guy."
Tom: Just in general, what do you think he most needs to improve about his game at the next level?
Keeping his aggression in check. It's a good mentality, but don't lose technique for the sake of it. He can be a punishing drive blocker, but he's guilty of losing his blocks, or overshooting his targets when he's simply trying too hard to be nasty. I think he also needs to continue to add strength if he's going to transition to playing inside or RT which are more dependent on drive blocking, by nature.
Collins is a tremendous get. At this point it looks like he had nothing to do with the unfortunate deaths and let's hope it stays that way. He's the best OL to come out of LSU, probably since Andrew Whitworth. Even though I'm an Eagles fan, I hope the best for him. I would not be surprised at all if he went on to have a lengthy NFL career.
The more we see about Collins, the more there is to like about the way Jerry Jones snookered the rest of the league. Thanks again to Paul, even if he does root for the dark side.