With the NFL Draft taking beginning on Thursday and little left to do in preparation for the event, there's one prospect that scares me more than any other prospect for the Cleveland Browns. Zaven Collins, the linebacker from Tulsa. Collins is a talented player, but I'm not convinced he has a position with the Browns.
Initially, Collins was billed as a massive linebacker with excellent athleticism that could do a little of everything. The ability to make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage, range and the ability to contribute in coverage.
The only problem with that is he doesn't really have sideline to sideline range. He has some spectacular plays in coverage, but he's not really suited to play man coverage in the NFL. Being valuable in zone is certainly a useful skill, but it's debatable that the Browns necessarily value his skill set to do it.
The Browns have assembled a defensive line that is going to focus on protecting the second level. Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney are strong enough to be stout at the point of attack and long enough to be difficult to reach. With the return of Andrew Billings, they have a true, two-gapping nose that can clog up the middle.
If the Browns are building a defense to avoid having their linebackers taking on blocks, the size Collins offers isn't as useful. As a blitzer, he could be load coming forward if he gets single blocked, however.
His junior season had the highlight plays people hope to get from Collins, but it was least productive in terms of simply playing linebacker. In a season where Collins racked up 4 sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss and 4 interceptions, including a pair of defensive touchdowns, he only contributed 35 solo tackles, which is just 8.3 percent of the team's market share.
His sophomore season had his best season in terms of doing what a linebacker is really asked to do, which is make tackles. There, Collins recorded 51 tackles, 11.5 percent of the team total.
His junior season is a nice edge production profile, except Collins plays edge. Hold onto that thought.
A 4.66 40 at 259 pounds is excellent for his size. However, that's not great for someone trying to get everywhere on the field. That's part of the reason linebackers are getting smaller across the NFL. They want them to be faster, offer more range to run and chase. Collins does have good explosion, which can help that speed look faster on the field.
So the Browns could take a huge middle linebacker that would then be competing against Anthony Walker and Sione Takitaki for largely the same role in the Browns defense. Even if he wins the job, they don't want him on the field every down.
The complication is that the Collins went to the medical re-check, where he weighed 270 pounds. Perhaps only temporary as part of his training, he might plan to lose it. More likely, he's building himself into an edge defender, but this raises another concern.
The Pro Day showed how he moves at 259 pounds, save for the 3-cone which he did not test. It's not obvious how he would test at 270 pounds if he plans to stay at or near that weight, so the athletic testing is no longer as informative as one would like.
The possibility of Collins being an edge defender has been increasingly part of the conversation, that it would somehow be good for him. And maybe it could be. Baron Browning, the Ohio State defender, is a viable option for changing positions to an edge rusher, though he won't be likely to be taken as high as Collins.
The issue is Collins has only had 117 reps in three seasons as part of the defensive line according to Pro Football Focus. Browning has a similar issue, only playing 103 snaps in three seasons.
So other than projecting him based on traits and an incomplete and now potentially obsolete athletic profile, what's the case that Collins can succeed on the edge? And how is he better than purer edge options that are likely to be available? Sure, he can drop into coverage, but is he going to put pressure on the quarterback?
It's far too easy to see a situation where Collins doesn't live up to draft slotting on the edge and is simply too big and too slow to be function in a defense that has been broadcasting its desire to play faster. He's not just underwhelming in that situation, but he's not on the field.
For a team like the Baltimore Ravens that live on blitzing, Collins might be a tremendous option. Put him in the middle or line him up on the edge and overload the opponent. His size becomes a major asset because he's dictating the situation to the opponent. For the Browns that are often reading and reacting on the back end of the defense, it just seems like a really bad fit.
It's sort of amazing that Collins has been a linebacker, because his body type would so often be moved to the edge and he'd be potentially entering the draft with three years as an edge defender to evaluate. Without, projecting comes with substantial risk. One that I hope the Browns don't take in the 2021 NFL Draft.