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5 things to know about new 49ers DT Maliek Collins

Mar 13, 2024 at 4:00 PM


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The new-look San Francisco 49ers defensive line added yet another piece of the puzzle on Wednesday in defensive tackle Maliek Collins, whom the 49ers acquired via trade with the Houston Texans in exchange for a seventh-round draft pick.

Collins, 28, is entering his ninth NFL season after being selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of the University of Nebraska. Collins is the fourth addition to the 49ers' defensive line since the start of the NFL's "legal tampering" period on Monday, joining defensive ends Leonard Floyd and Yetur Gross-Matos and defensive tackle Jordan Elliott.

What should 49ers fans know about Collins as he heads to the Bay Area? Let's take a look.

Run defense boost


The 49ers had some visible struggles defending the run at times last season, in particular during their postseason run to Super Bowl LVIII. In their NFC Championship win over the Detroit Lions, the 49ers surrendered 182 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries (6.2 average), which allowed them to build a 24-7 halftime lead before the 49ers mounted a furious second-half comeback to take a 34-31 win. The 49ers gave up 136 yards to the Green Bay Packers in their 24-21 win in the Divisional Round (although 53 of those yards came on one play) and allowed 130 yards to the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl, with 66 of those coming on runs by quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Those performances undoubtedly were one of multiple elements that set in motion a series of defensive line moves that so far have included the additions of Floyd, Gross-Matos, Elliot, and Collins to go with the departures of defensive tackles Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw, defensive end Clelin Ferrell, and in most likelihood, defensive ends Randy Gregory and Chase Young.

Collins can help against both the run and the pass. But 49ers fans will be happy to know that his run defense, in particular, drew him some praise during his time with the Texans.

In 2022, the Texans were at the bottom of the NFL barrel when it came to run defense, allowing a dismal 170.2 yards per game. They rebounded in 2023 to become the league's sixth-rated team against the run -- something that Collins had a hand in.

Towards the end of the 2023 season, the Houston Chronicle credited a defensive line tandem of Collins and Sheldon Rankins as being one of the primary differences for a Houston defense that helped elevate a team that was one of the NFL's worst in 2022 to an unexpected playoff spot in 2023.

"Together along with Collins, they are forming an elite tandem," wrote Jonathan Alexander of the Chronicle. "When those two are in the game together, opponents struggle."

The Texans were showing signs of a turnaround on defense in late 2022 with Collins' help.

"He's just a disruptor, a game-wrecker," former Texans defensive end Jonathan Greenard said of Collins in 2022, per the Chronicle. "It's hard to game-plan for him because he can be a speed guy, a power guy, a finesse guy. People know about him when we play them."

Football might not have been his best sport in high school


Collins was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to the sport of football at Center High School in Kansas City, Missouri. As a matter of fact, he didn't even play varsity football until his junior season.

Collins' high school coach, Bryan Delong, told KSHB TV in Kansas City that Collins' improvement from his freshman season to his senior season was "phenomenal."

"He didn't start here at Center until his junior year," DeLong said in 2020. "People always ask, 'How was he as a freshman? Was he just dominant? And Maliek played JV through his freshman and sophomore year."

Collins was an All-State performer as a senior but wasn't considered a blue-chip football recruit, although he was still noticed enough to get noticed by programs like Arkansas, Iowa State, and Nebraska. In wrestling, however, Collins was one of the best in the state. He went 48-5 as a junior at the heavyweight class, then went 48-0 as a senior en route to a state championship.

"He's extremely gifted athletically," former Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said of Collins in 2013, per the Kansas City Star. "His wrestling background helps him. He has a great power base."

The rise continues


Collins' improvement didn't stop once he got to Nebraska. He played in 38 games for the Cornhuskers, starting 26, and totaled eight sacks and 23 tackles for loss. As a junior in 2015, Collins was selected as a second-team All-Big Ten selection after a season that saw him total 29 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks.

Collins decided to declare early for the NFL Draft following his junior season. At the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine, Collins ran a 5.03 40-yard dash at 6-2, 311 pounds, while also putting up a 4.52-second 20-yard shuttle time, a 29.5-inch vertical jump, and 25 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.

Collins moved into the starting lineup in Dallas as a rookie. He started 14 of 16 games in 2016, notching five sacks and 23 tackles to go with 13 quarterback hits and five tackles for loss. He played 55 games for the Cowboys before signing with the Raiders in 2020. Collins played one year with the Raiders before joining the Texans in 2021. Overall, he has 112 starts in 119 games with 206 tackles, 76 quarterback hits, 25.5 sacks, and 46 tackles for loss.

Contract status and injury history:


Collins has avoided any serious in-season injuries throughout his NFL career, as he's never played less than 12 games in a season. But he went through his share of foot problems earlier in his career. Before his rookie year, Collins suffered a broken right foot during offseason workouts, which required surgery but didn't throw his rookie season off track. He had foot surgery a second time after the 2017 season, then once again broke his foot during offseason workouts in the spring of 2018. Collins missed three games during his one-year stint with the Raiders due to a hamstring injury.

Collins is signed through 2025 and is due for a base salary of $8 million in 2024. Collins is due for a $9.5 million base salary in 2025 but can be cut next year at no dead money cost.

Main motivation


When Collins was with the Cowboys, he got a call during a team meeting from the mother of his son Khalon, informing him she had gone to the hospital with stomach pain. Collins rushed to the hospital, only to be told by doctors that everything would be fine. But after going home to take a shower, Collins returned to the hospital to discover that Khalon was about to be born 16 weeks early.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Khalon was born weighing one pound, eight ounces, and had to spend three months in intensive care. Khalon went through some rough periods in the years ahead but eventually became a healthy young boy.

"Just seeing the fight that he had in him to keep going," Collins said in 2022, per HoustonTexans.com. "That was my rookie year. So, I mean, seeing the fight that he had, I can never fold based on that. Just having that instilled in me, what he instilled in me, which is crazy."

Before Khalon was born, Collins was motivated to provide for Maliek Jr., who he was playing for at the University of Nebraska.

"My main goal is to set my son up for the rest of his life," Collins said in 2015. "I want to make sure he has all the things that I didn't have growing up. Whether I get that done through education or through playing in the NFL, I feel like I'll be setting him up."
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