Zaven Collins Drafted by Cardinals: Arizona's Updated Depth Chart After Round 1April 30, 2021
Arizona Cardinals selected Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins with the 16th overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft on Thursday.
Collins had 54 tackles, four sacks, four interceptions and two touchdowns in just eight games for Tulsa during the 2020 season. Thanks largely to his efforts, Tulsa went 6-2 during the regular season, winning six straight and pushing No. 6 Cincinnati to the limit in the American Athletic Conference finale, eventually losing 27-24.
He also authored one of college football's most impressive plays of the season when he finished off a 30-24 double-overtime win over Tulane with a 96-yard interception return for a touchdown:
Here's a look at how the Cardinals depth chart stacks up with the star playmaker in the mix.
LDE: Zach Allen, Michael Dogbe
NT: Leki Fotu, Jordan Phillips
RDE: JJ Watt, Rashard Lawrence
OLB: Chandler Jones, Kylie Fitts
ILB: Jordan Hicks, Tanner Vallejo
ILB: Isaiah Simmons, Ezekiel Turner
OLB: Zaven Collins, Markus Golden, Devon Kennard
CB: Robert Alford, Picasso Nelson Jr.
CB: Malcolm Butler, Jace Whittaker
NB: Byron Murphy, Jalen Thompson
FS: Budda Baker, Chris Banjo
SS: Charles Washington, Deionte Thompson
Depth chart info provided by Ourlads and Over the Cap.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Network noted the new player's role on the team:
Collins is an exceptional talent and has proved doubters wrong after Tulsa was the only Division I school to offer him a scholarship. He's supremely athletic, as evidenced by his exploits as a gymnast and baseball player during his childhood. Collins was also the quarterback of his high school team.
Tulsa defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Joseph Gillespie spoke with Kelly Hines of Tulsa World about Collins' on-field dominance and intangibles.
"Not just the production that he has had this season but over the course of his career is phenomenal," Gillespie said. "He's an impactful player and the most hungry football player that I've gotten to coach. He has a passion and a work ethic to be great."
Collins' work on and off the field received recognition with the prestigious Lombardi Award:
In addition, Collins took home the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (best collegiate defensive player, per Football Writers' Association of America) and the Chuck Bednarik Award (best defensive player, per Maxwell Football Club). He was a runner-up for the Butkus Award (top linebacker).
Pro Football Focus ranked Collins as the seventh-best college football player from the 2020 season, with Anthony Treash writing:
"Collins did unprecedented things at the linebacker position this past fall and winter for the Tulsa Hurricane. His 93.7 grade in coverage is now well above the previous PFF record set by former UCLA Bruin and current Minnesota Viking Eric Kendricks all the way back in 2014 (92.1).
"The 6'4", 240-pound off-ball linebacker tallied four interceptions, three forced incompletions and nine passing stops when dropping into coverage. He was also one of the top blitz weapons in the entire country. All told, Collins picked up 16 pressures on 51 rushes and was the only player at his position to record a 90.0-plus grade in coverage and as a blitzer."
Joe Marino of the Draft Network also praised Collins, writing that his ideal role is as a "starting linebacker given opportunities to rush the passer, drop in coverage, play downhill, and in space." As far as scheme fit, Marino said: "Collins projects favorably to a defense that is multiple with its alignments that presents the opportunity for him to unleash the full breadth of his skill set."
Collins should be an instant Day 1 starter for the Cardinals as it looks to improve its defense. The ex-Tulsa star could have an All-Pro ceiling and may be leading the Arizona defense for years to come.
Putting him alongside Isaiah Simmons gives the squad loads of athleticism on that side of the ball for defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.