With the unexpected release of defensive tackle Dominique Easley, the Patriots are now in desperate need of interior defensive lineman that can provide a pass rush. When Easley was healthy last season, the defensive line was scary good because he was getting an inside pass rush and breaking things down for the outside guys like Chandler Jones and Jabaal Sheard. The moment Easley went down, the Patriots pass rush lost its momentum and the defense was never the same. When he was released last week that became an immediate draft need. Luckily for the Patriots, this is supposedly the best defensive tackle class in a long time, so this is the year to rebuild, especially with two second round picks and two third round picks.
Nebraska defensive tackle Maliek Collins may be a defensive tackle that the Patriots target in the third round. Collins can help provide the interior pass rush that is so crucial to a good defense, and he also has the potential to be a star pass-rushing three technique in the NFL. Collins production dropped last season and that may push him down some draft boards, but after getting coached up at the NFL level, he might fix his flaws and become nearly unblockable. Collins has a great first step and can get into the blocker before they can get their hands on him, and his excellent lateral quickness allows him to make plays in the backfield.
Collins is a considerably better pass rusher than run defender, and if he plans on playing on all three downs in the NFL, he better improve defending the run. Considering how good Collins is at coming off the ball and getting into the backfield, he should be able to learn how to slow down so he can locate the ball carrier. It's great to be able to get upfield as a defensive lineman, but if you go too far you'll run yourself right out of the play. Collins is 6'2, 311, which is decent size, but he hasn't figured out how to play against double teams, another teachable skill, but I'm sure he's had coaches work with him on the technique in the past and he still hasn't improved. He also allows himself to be moved on redirection blocks, a problem that must be fixed for him to avoid just being a situational pass rusher.
As a freshman at Nebraska, Collins appeared in six games, picking up six solo tackles, six assisted tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one sack, and one forced fumble. In just a small sample size, he gave Cornhusker fans and coaches something to be excited about. His sophomore year was his best season, starting 11 of 13 games, and making 17 solo tackles, 28 assisted tackles, 13 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. Unfortunately for Collins, he was a true sophomore and had to play one more year before declaring for the draft, and that hurt his stock. His junior year was average- 13 games started, 14 solo tackles, 15 assisted tackles, seven tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and one pass defended. Yes, he was double and triple teamed all season, but great players learn how to deal with those situations and still make plays, and that is something Collins will have to do at the next level.
Collins is not a good fit for the 3-4, but New England doesn't lock themselves into that one scheme anymore, and the personnel they currently have on the roster is more suited for 4-3, so it wouldn't be a huge surprise if New England drafted Collins with one of their two- third rounders or fourth round pick. Collins is a three-technique with huge upside, but if a team drafts him and attempts to use him in the 3-4 only, that would be a mistake and a detriment to Collins career. If New England drafts him and allows him to do what he does best, he'll flourish in a system that many rookie defensive tackles have been successful in.
Statistics Provided by Sports-Reference.com/College Football
Follow me @ chris_simoneau