*Editor's Note: This week's series: Point/Counterpoint takes a closer look at the rookie class. Today's question is "Which Rookie Will Make the Biggest Impact in 2015?" Staff writer David Helman took the point of LSU Rookie La'el Collins, while Nick Eatman opted for Randy Gregory.) *
Plug a talented rookie into a talented offensive line and watch the offense benefit. The offensive improvement puts less strain on the defense, and the results can be seen in a favorable win-loss record.
That should read like a familiar script because the Cowboys followed it to a division championship and a playoff run last season.
It was also a fun and exciting script, which gives me no hesitation in calling for a re-do – and the Cowboys have the pieces in place to make it happen.
He wasn't a draft pick, as has been discussed plenty by now, but La'el Collins has the same caliber of talent of the three first-round picks who have come before him on this Dallas offensive line. If not for the homicide investigation that dropped his draft stock, it's entirely plausible Collins could have gone No. 9 overall to the New York Giants in the 2015 NFL Draft – the same position as Tyron Smith, and significantly higher than both Zack Martin and Travis Frederick.
This isn't intended as a knock on Ron Leary's abilities because he's been a quality starter for two seasons now, but the easy money is on Collins to step in and compete for Leary's left guard position. If he has the talent of his predecessors, it's not a reach to think he'll be a Day 1 starter like the other three before him.
I feel reluctant to pencil Collins in for Martin's level of success, as Martin earned All-Pro honors in his rookie season. But I really think the newest young offensive lineman can make an immediate impact for this team – and in a variety of ways.
As publicized as the tackle positions are – and rightly so, for the record – how huge would it be to have three first-round talents forming the bulk of Tony Romo's pocket for the foreseeable future? It's been widely discussed that Romo handles pressure coming from the edge much better than right in front of him. On top of that, he's on the shorter side of starting NFL quarterbacks, and having three maulers directly in front of him should help his line of sight.
Listed at 6-5, 321 pounds, Collins is also already bigger than Frederick, Martin and Leary. His presence as a run blocker should make for plenty of rushing room for the Cowboys' running backs – whoever they turn out to be.
As I mentioned briefly at the top of the story, these are all keys to the continued success of this team in 2015. The Cowboys appear to have beefed up their defense, but I still wouldn't consider it a strength. Their best bet for success is to control the ball and protect the quarterback, keeping the defense off the field in the process.
The Cowboys already did a fantastic job of that in 2014, with three first-round talents on their offensive line. In 2015, with Collins serving as a fourth, they should be plenty equipped to do it again.