Star Evaluation: Collins Likely Back To Starter After Injury-Shortened Year

The roster turnover has begun. Free agency is here, and the 2017 NFL Draft isn't far behind it. Over the next two months, the Cowboys will lose and replace a sizable portion of their roster.

For every new face, however, there are dozens of familiar ones that will return to begin a new campaign. From established veterans to second-year players, the vast majority of the Cowboys' 2017 team is already on the roster. In the coming weeks, the staff of DallasCowboys.com will preview those players, analyzing where they've been and where they're going.

The series continues with guard La'el Collins.

What's Been Good: Signed in 2015 as a rookie free agent with first-round talent, Collins benefited from significant playing time in his first season. The Cowboys moved him to the starting left guard spot full-time over Ronald Leary in the sixth game of the season, and he started 10 of the final 11 games. As head coach Jason Garrett says, the best experience for a young player is to play, and Collins began his career lining up with an All-Pro on either side: Tyron Smith at left tackle and Travis Frederick at center.

What's Been Bad:Collins appeared in only three games last season, suffering a toe injury in the first half Sept. 25 against Chicago that would sideline him the rest of the year. Leary took over at left guard as Collins recovered from surgery. Collins will be back healthy next season, but he was unable to continue his development on the field in 2016. The 23-year-old has shown flashes of dominance as a starter, displaying tremendous strength as a blocker and athleticism getting out in space. The key for him will be improving his consistency each play.[embeddedad0]

2016 Highlight:Collins played in only three games and 186 of 1,060 total offensive snaps during the regular season, but one of his best plays was a critical touchdown in the Cowboys' 13-win season: Alfred Morris' 4-yard TD run in the final five minutes to beat the Washington Redskins, 27-23, and avoid an 0-2 start. Collins blocked two defensive linemen on the play and helped create a middle lane for Morris to run in untouched.

What's Next: There has been speculation the Cowboys could experiment with Collins at right tackle at some point – he starred at tackle at LSU – but the logical fit would be moving him back to the starter at left guard now that he's healthy and Leary has signed a free-agent deal with the Denver Broncos.

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