IRVING, Texas – They play different positions, but La'el Collins and Ezekiel Elliott have something in common: Dallas was their first choice for an NFL destination.
The primary reason? The Cowboys' offensive line.
Elliott, the team's fourth overall pick last month, made clear on draft night that he preferred to run behind arguably the league's most talented group, which features three All-Pro selections (Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin).
"That's a running back's dream," he said.
Collins had his pick of virtually any NFL team last spring as a rookie free agent with first-round talent. He chose the Cowboys for the chance to develop around high-quality teammates and coaches – and to raise the line's already-stellar standing.
Collins' rookie season provided a solid baseline. He started 11 games at left guard and became the full-time starter by the sixth game, flashing his potential with highlight-reel blocks: moving defenders yards down the field, outrunning his own running back into the second level.
Now, in Year Two, Collins expects a major step forward. He wants to be a consistent force like the Cowboys' veteran linemen.
"It's a standard that we hold as a group," he said. "I think coming in for me last year as a young guy really having to live up to that standard, continuing to work like those guys has helped me become a better player."
His teammates can see it. Martin, the team's 2014 first-round pick who made the All-Pro team in his first two seasons, knows what a productive offseason can do for a lineman's confidence leading into his second year.
"You can already see it with him. He's been awesome this offseason," Martin said of Collins. "You can tell he's more comfortable. He's a great feeling for what's going on, really coming to work every day. So, we're excited to get everyone together."
Now Elliott's joining the backfield as the likely focal point of the running game. He has a chance to be a three-down player with his ability to help the offensive line as a blocker, in addition to his rushing and receiving skills.
He and Collins are two young players the Cowboys are counting on. Collins is "extremely excited" to see what the rookie can add to the offense.
"He's a smart guy, fast guy, learns pretty fast," Collins said.