Coming out of LSU back in 2015, La’el Collins was one of the top offensive line prospects in the entire draft, but a strange set of circumstances that saw him answer questions in a murder investigation, despite police indicating he wasn’t a suspect, saw him go undrafted and sign with the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent. After four years in the NFL, the Cowboys recently gave him a contract that made him the fifth-highest paid right tackle in the NFL. Coming off the best game of his career this past weekend against the New York Giants, Collins appears to be justifying that decision by the Cowboys.
Collins’ final season at LSU was the first year we started collecting data for college football, and it’s fair to say that Collins was impressive. He allowed just four total pressures (all hurries) on 332 pass-blocking snaps and produced a PFF pass-blocking grade of 92.2, which ranked third among all offensive tackles in 2014. He was equally as impressive as a run-blocker, producing a PFF run-blocking grade of 90.7 that ranked seventh at the position. His all-round dominance mattered, and he was the only offensive tackle in college football that season to produce grades of 90.0 or higher in both pass and run blocking, leading to an overall PFF grade of 92.7 that was tied for second in the nation.
His time in the NFL started at left guard, and his rookie season was solid. He allowed zero sacks, three hits and 19 hurries on 419 pass-blocking snaps and finished the year with a 68.7 PFF grade. 2016 got off to a rough start, with Collins producing a 50.2 PFF grade on 186 snaps in the first three weeks before missing the rest of the year. A switch to right tackle in 2017 saw him allow his first sacks in the NFL, surrendering five sacks, eight hits and 38 hurries on 609 pass-blocking snaps in an up-and-down season that saw flashes of what he could become and 2018 finally saw him start to look comfortable at the position and in the league. From Week 14 through the Divisional Round of the playoffs, he allowed just one sack, two hits and 10 hurries on 265 pass-blocking snaps, producing a PFF pass-blocking grade of 72.0 or higher in every contest. And that brings us to Sunday’s performance against the Giants.
With an overall PFF grade of 92.4, this was by far the best game of his career, and he looked every bit the top-five right tackle that the Cowboys are paying him to be. Outstanding in pass protection, he didn’t allow a single sack, hit or hurry on 36 pass-blocking snaps, and he had just one snap where the defender even got by him in pass protection. That was impressive, but it was as a run-blocker that he really dominated, both at the line of scrimmage and the second level.
Whether it was working to the outside and handling edge defender Markus Golden or blocking inside on players like RJ McIntosh and Dexter Lawrence, Collins showcased his strength at the point of attack. He was even better at the second level, highlighted by a pull block that saw him sit linebacker Alec Ogletree down on 1st-and-15 with 3:45 left in the second quarter. If ever there was a block to cap an impressive performance, that was it, with Collins sending Ogletree back two yards and onto his back.
With a shutdown performance in pass protection and some bullying dominance in the running game, Collins is beginning to show precisely why the Cowboys felt so good handing him the contract that he did and, through one week of action in the NFL, he is the highest-graded offensive tackle in the league.