*Editor's Note: Throughout the off-season, DallasCowboys.com staff writers will take a closer look at the roster, analyzing players' impact last season and how each fits into the team's 2016 plans. Today's Roster Rundown entry features guard La'el Collins.)*
Name: La'el Collins
Height/Weight: 6-4 / 315
Experience: 1 season
Key stat:Despite being a rookie, Collins only had four penalties assessed against him last year, compared to nine for Doug Free and each for Tyron Smith and Zack Martin.
Contract Status:Signed through 2017.
2015 Impact: I have to admit that I believed the learning curve for Collins was going to be step despite coming from a program where he played in several big games. There were times in training camp where that proved to be the case with some missed assignments and technique issues. To the coaching staff's credit they stuck with him and made him more a part of the plan each week. When he received that start against the Falcons, I knew that they made this switch for the long haul and there was no going back. What Collins lacked for experience he made up for it with physical toughness and playing strength. He showed lateral range and the ability to play in space. He played with body control and balance. There were more snaps than not where he was able to finish the play. His effort was outstanding and the concerns that I had for him being able to process information was not a factor. I was worried how he and Tyron Smith were going to be able to work together considering that Smith and Ronald Leary had a nice two year run. Collins technique improved as well from his hand placement to his footwork, he just played comfortable and that was surprising for his rookie season.
Where He Fits: You have seen me write about this before when talking about Ronald Leary and Zack Martin, it is Jerry Jones belief that front of that pocket for the quarterback is just as important as those tackles that protect the edges. The commitment to draft Travis Frederick and Zack Martin then make a run at La'el Collins then land him is a clear message of that position. Collins will be the starter at guard for years to come for this organization due to his athletic ability and power.
Nick Eatman: When the Cowboys signed Collins just after the draft, it seemed apparent at the time the team had completely stolen a first-round pick. The unusual circumstances that unfortunately dropped Collins out of the draft and into the Cowboys' lap, seemed – on paper at least – to give this offensive line yet another star player on an already talent unit. And that's exactly what happened. While he didn't unseat Ron Leary from his starting job right away, he eventually settled in nicely at left guard and nearly made the Pro Bowl in his first season. I think he'll be even better heading into this offseason because he likely won't be moving back to tackle anytime soon. Now that he will get the chance to work all summer at guard, Collins should be well on his way to becoming one of the NFL's best young linemen – even if it's going to be tough to crack the top three on his own team.