Rarely, if ever, do you see an undrafted free agent entering training camp with a ton of expectations. However, that is exactly what will take place when La'el Collins reports to the Dallas Cowboys' training camp in Oxnard, California.
This allowed to the Cowboys to put a punctuation mark on a remarkable offseason. After they signed Collins, the Cowboys walked away with arguably three first-round talents in the 2015 NFL draft with Byron Jones, Randy Gregory and La'el Collins.
The acquisition of Collins gives the Cowboys the incredible chance to have the best offensive line in football despite having four starters under the age of 24. For that to happen, Collins will have to beat out Ronald Leary for the left guard spot, and Leary isn't going to give it up easy.
Collins will have a ton to prove because the Cowboys don't have to have him start. The Cowboys could still go with Leary and have the best offensive line in football. Nevertheless, the prospect of starting Collins could improve the Cowboys in pass protection without giving up anything in the run department.
As a player, Collins is a dominant run blocker who is also very adept in pass protection. Where Collins separates himself from other young offensive linemen is his ability to coil his hips and explode into defenders to create movement at the point of attack.
Here is a great example, as pointed out by former NFL offensive lineman Duke Manyweather:
Notice how Collins keeps his knees bent and his hips coiled until he is about to make contact with the defender. This gives him a great base and an ability to generate a ton of power to move the opposing defensive linemen.
Another great aspect of the play above is Collins' footwork. He is gaining ground with every step, which gives him superior angles to get into position to make the block. This is fantastic because a lot of young linemen tend to pivot on their feet instead of gain ground, which causes them to lose their angles and be a tick late.
These types of mistakes don't typically cost them in college football, but when you line up against a player like Gerald McCoy, it makes all the difference.
These are the types of subtle nuances that allow Collins to make plays like the one below (h/t Oline Vines).
You will be hard-pressed to find a better play from an offensive lineman anywhere in football. However, when you break it down, he was able to pancake three defenders because of his complete understanding of the fundamentals.
If his hips weren't coiled, he wouldn't have been able to generate the necessary amount of force to pancake the linebacker, and if his footwork were off, he wouldn't have been able to get to the second level as quickly as he did.
Another facet of Collins' game that lends itself well to the NFL is his ability to drive his feet when he is initially stifled at the point of attack. This allows him to generate a ton of movement off the line of scrimmage and be a physical finisher in the run game.
Here is a great example of Collins doing just that against the third-overall pick Dante Fowler Jr.:
Collins is lined up at left tackle with a tight end to his left, and Fowler is lined up shaded to his outside. After the snap, Collins takes a slight lead step with his left foot followed by an attack step with his right foot.
Fowler gets a quick jump off the snap, which inhibits Collins’ ability to get a strong punch. This initially causes a stalemate at the line of scrimmage. However, Collins drives his feet at the point of attack, which allows him to move Fowler four yards off the line of scrimmage, which is a huge win for the offense.
While he is known for his dominance in the run game, Collins is still very good in pass protection. This play showcases Collins' ability in pass protection extremely well:
LSU is lined up in an unbalanced left formation. Therefore, Collins aligns as the left tackle with one offensive lineman and a tight end to his left (he is the second person from the left of the center).
When the ball is snapped, Collins gets into a soft kick slide, which means he pushed off his inside foot and took a short jab step backward at a 45-degree angle to his left. Once Alvin Dupree (No. 2) gets near him, Collins punches with his hands inside and takes ahold of Dupree’s breastplate. Dupree attempts to disengage off Collins, but he can’t, which results in Dupree flailing around as Collins easily controls him.
This play is great for his projection to the Cowboys because it is one of the few plays with him playing with an offensive lineman on both sides of him, which is similar to playing guard.
One problem a lot of young linemen have is that they are impatient when playing inside. They try too quick set too often, which leads to them getting beaten very early in the play. However, watch how Collins creates spaces and stays patient throughout his pass set, which is something even veteran offensive lineman struggle with.
Even with all of these positives, Collins will have to prove that he will be able to do it consistently inside where everything is much quicker and fast-paced than out on the edge.
Furthermore, Leary has already showcased that he is in sync with his fellow starters on the offensive line, which is huge to an offensive line.
All five offensive linemen must be in sync with their footwork and pass sets. If they aren't, it will lead to cracks and fissures up front, which the defense will take full advantage of.
Overall, Collins is a fantastic talent who has the ability to become an All-Pro someday. Nonetheless, there have been a lot of linemen as talented as Collins who have failed to live up to their expectations.
Can Collins adjust to the speed and power of NFL defensive linemen on a consistent basis? Collins will have to answer that question early on and consistently throughout training camp because we know Leary already has.