The Arizona Cardinals selected former Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins with the 16th overall pick in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft on Thursday night.
This is the second straight year the Cardinals opted for a linebacker in the first round, as Isaiah Simmons was taken eighth overall last year out of Clemson.
Collins was a three-year starter at Tulsa, where he was named the 2020 National Defensive Player of the Year and an Associated Press first-team All-America.
Pro Football Focus graded him the best linebacker in college football last season, as well as the best in pass coverage. He had four interceptions last season with two pass breakups.
From NFL Media analyst Lance Zierlein: “Combines rare size and athleticism as a big outside linebacker. Collins is a team-oriented defender willing to plug gaps and spill the action wide for teammates to run down.”
The Cardinals lost outside linebacker Haason Reddick in free agency. Now they get another young replacement to pair with 2019 All-Pro Chandler Jones and veteran Markus Golden. NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported that Collins will play a SAM role in Arizona.
The opening half of the first round saw three wide receivers and two cornerbacks taken in the top 10. With top players from those team needs gone, the Cardinals decided to continue to fill out the defense and add a potential future staple along with Simmons and safety Budda Baker.
The Cardinals have just one Day-2 pick unless they make a trade. They will select at the 49th spot in the second round.
Arizona will then have to wait 111 picks until the fifth round on Saturday. The Cardinals sent their third-round pick to the Las Vegas Raiders for All-Pro center Rodney Hudson and their fourth-round pick to Houston as part of the DeAndre Hopkins trade package last year.
Arizona also picks 223rd, 243rd and 247th.