One of college football's top players last fall, Zaven Collins also is among the top prospects for the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. The linebacker from Tulsa not only was a unanimous All-American, but he also won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Lombardi Award, and the Chuck Bednarik Award. Tailor-made for modern defenses, Collins will likely hear his name called at some point in the first round.
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Zaven Collins Draft Profile
Collins has the size of a big, thumping linebacker, but he also has the multi-directional movement skills and coverage ability to stay on the field on third downs. He’s a natural, fluid mover, especially for a big man, with the quick feet and speed to turn and run up the seam with tight ends. His functional strength shows in his ability to take on blockers, and he’s a twitchy athlete who packs pop as a tackler. He has the pure speed to cover a lot of ground sideline-to-sideline, with a non-stop motor and a reputation for high football character at Tulsa.
There are still some rough edges in his game, especially when it comes to attacking as a blitzer, where he doesn’t show much of a feel for working his way to a quarterback when he doesn’t have a free run. He needs to refine his handwork when rushing the passer. He played a lot of zone coverage at the college level, and his discipline and technique will be tested when he’s asked to match up against tight ends or athletic running backs early in his NFL career. Against the run, he flashed take-on skills but too often tried to run around blocks rather than finding the shortest available path to the ball.
Collins is the prototype for the modern linebacker. There’s scheme versatility and three-down ability with the skill set to become a very good coverage linebacker. As the leader of a rather weak ILB group, he could need a year to adjust to the physicality of the NFL while he sharpens his game, but Collins is a potential star in a year or two.
Final Grade: 1st/2nd round
(Top photo by Romeo T. Guzman for Tulsa Athletics, courtesy of tulsahurricane.com)