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Why La’el Collins is the Cowboys right tackle now, and for the future

After a full year as the teams starting right tackle, many fans had mixed reviews regarding La’el Collins’ play. Don’t worry, he is going to be a very good right tackle for the Dallas Cowboys.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Around this time a year ago, many fans were curious who would be the teams right tackle in 2017 after Doug Free retired. With La’el Collins, Chaz Green, and Byron Bell the teams only real-options heading into training camp, La’el Collins was the “next man up” for the job.

Collins had some experience playing tackle at LSU and was actually evaluated as a tackle by some teams when coming out of college in 2015. Collins was known for his nasty style of play that can completely dominate opponents from the word go. Collins started his professional career out as a left guard, and actually played pretty well as a rookie starting in 11 games. In his second year, Collins was unable to stay healthy and only appeared in three games. After a disappointing second year in Dallas, the Cowboys’ coaching staff put all their chips in La’el Collins’ basket - in hopes that he would take off as the teams starting right tackle. Is that where he should stay?

There has been a lot of talk about La’el Collins on social media recently due to a graphic that Pro Football Focus put out earlier this week.

DeMarcus Lawrence made this list for all the right reasons. Two Cowboys who aren’t shown on the list make it anyway in a manner you don’t want to see. Von Miller in week two had the second-most pressures in a single week against La’el Collins and the Dallas Cowboys offensive line. Miller who is looked at as one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, finished the second game of the season with 12 pressures, two sacks, one pass defended, and two tackles. By the looks of that stat line, Von Miller completely dominated the entire 60 minutes of the game, but that is not the case here. Miller, who was very good in week two, wreaked most of his havoc in the late third and fourth quarter when the game was pretty much already decided. Von Miller completely pinned his ears back, timed the snap count, and whooped La’el Collins for the final 15 minutes of the football game, but for the first 45 minutes, it was a relatively even matchup. Of course, we can’t expect players to be perfect in all sixteen games, so let’s take a look at how La’el Collins matched up against some of the league’s best pass rushers in other weeks of the season.

La’el Collins first start at right tackle came against eight-year veteran Jason Pierre-Paul. In that week one matchup, Collins held his own well against the veteran defensive end. Pierre-Paul had a relatively quiet night, finishing with only three total tackles. Pierre-Paul also was able to record in a sack in their second meeting of 2017 in week 14, though he did add two more solo tackles to his stat sheet.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

In week five, Collins was up against Packers’ veteran Clay Matthews. Matthews, who has played in the NFL for 10 seasons, has taken on a more expanded role in the Packers’ defense. Matthews does much more than just rush the quarterback in his role now, but even in week five’s matchup, he wasn’t able to get to the quarterback once. Matthews finished the night with five tackles and one pass defended.

In week eight, Collins faced another savvy veteran in Washington’s Ryan Kerrigan. Collins struggled a bit against the eight-year veteran in sloppy conditions on the road. Kerrigan had a successful day at the office, finishing with two tackles and two sacks. Collins did come back and win the second battle of the season against Kerrigan in week thirteen’s matchup. Kerrigan finished the night with only three tackles. Big improvement from the first matchup to the second. Something that was the case as the season wore on.

In week nine, the Chiefs came to town and the Cowboys recorded their first impressive win of the season against a really good team. The Chiefs’ have one of the best pass rushers in the NFL in Justin Houston and Collins kept him in check all game. Houston was only able to record two tackles in the week nine matchup, and wasn’t able to get to Dak Prescott.

In Week 11 Collins again had his hand fulls with the Philadelphia Eagles. Collins again played a nice game against Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Derek Barnett, and Chris Long. Collins gave up one sack in the game to Brandon Graham. On the play, Dak Prescott had time, but none of his receivers were open. He was sacked on the play as he scrambled to his left looking for an open man. Graham eventually broke free from Collins and was able to sack Prescott. Collins held his own in both meetings against the defensive front that was able to win the Super Bowl later in the year.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Collins had his hands full in week 12’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Collins had to deal with both Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, who are two of the best pass rushers in the league. Joey Bosa finished the game with just four tackles and Melvin Ingram finished the game with only one tackle. While the great duo of Bosa and Ingram were unable to bring down Dak Prescott, they were able to apply consistent pressure for most of the game. This wasn’t one of Collins’ best games.

In week 15, Collins had yet another tough matchup against a top defensive end in the league, Khalil Mack. Mack, who is looked at as one of the top three pass rushers in the NFL, had a productive night with two sacks and five tackles. Neither of Mack’s sacks came when he was lined up against Collins. When one-on-one, Collins controlled Khalil Mack at the point of attack in the run game, and kept the pocket relatively clean.

In week 16, Collins went up against the Seahawks who deploy a variety of different looks on their defensive front. Collins did not give up a sack in the week 16 matchup, and played one of his better games of the season against one of the most disruptive defensive fronts in football.

For his first year at right tackle coming off an injury, La’el Collins did more than enough to stick as the teams starting right tackle. At the start of the offseason there were rumors that Collins was being considered for a move back to left guard after the signing of Cameron Fleming, and no real candidates at left guard on the roster. Thankfully, Connor Williams fell to the Cowboys in the second round and they landed their starting left guard, which will allow Collins to stay at right tackle.

Which is exactly where he should be after a very positive showing in his first year playing the position. Expect him to be even better in 2018 after having a year to learn, develop, and adjust to the position he hadn’t played since his last year at LSU.