2021 NFL Draft Prospect Profile: LB Zaven Collins, Tulsa

Zaven Collins is a versatile linebacker type with traits that project to both inside and outside linebacker. This plus his experience on special teams and his production makes him an intriguing prospect.
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LB ZAVEN COLLINS

Height: 6'4""
Weight: 260 lbs.
Class: Junior (red shirt)
School: Tulsa


A relatively unknown prospect who catapulted to first-round conversation after a productive 2020 season. A former three-star recruit out of Hominy, Oklahoma, where he attended Hominy High School. He was the 2,142nd ranked recruit in the 2017 cycle, according to 247 sports.

He blocked two kicks as a special teamer. Had a career-high 14 tackles against an SEC opponent (Arkansas) and came up big in clutch situations on the schedule. Collins possesses a unique blend of size, length, smarts, and playmaking ability. His versatility along the defensive front will intrigue teams throughout the draft process.

Notables

He packed on 40 pounds of good weight in college and had a productive career at Tulsa. He was a Freshman All-American, and he won the Bronco Nagurski Award and the Chuck Bednarik award in 2020--the nation’s top defensive player and linebacker. He played in 32 career games at Tulsa and recorded 236 tackles, 25.0 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, five interceptions, and two defensive touchdowns, as well as three forced fumbles and eight passes defended.

Traits

Linebackers aren’t developed with the type of size that Collins possesses. He has a big tight ends body as a middle linebacker who can play on the EDGE a little bit. Thick limbed incredible length, and solid overall athlete who possesses good short-area quickness and burst. He lacks top-end speed and isn’t the quick Devin White type of linebacker--his speed isn’t a liability but isn’t an advantage either.

Freak size and length assist him in almost all facets of the game - his skill-set and size are rare. His tackle radius is insanely large, and he’s a sound tackler when filling. He comes downhill hard and aggressive and hits low with solid power. (I would expect more power consistently, to be frank.) 

He is an excellent backside pursuit defender with a great closing burst; long strides his way to track down running backs and make aggressive tackles on the football.

Reads, reacts, and attacks well downhill; solid key & diagnose ability. I wish he were a bit better at stunning offensive lineman at the second level; he shows the length and ability to stack but was a bit inconsistent with shedding and finding the ball carrier--I want to see him maximize his size/power in this area. When not directly engaged with the block, does a good job working through trash and locating ball carriers.

He moves well laterally when backpedaling and has some fluidity in his hips for a linebacker of his size. Length closes throwing windows and poses problems in the short-intermediate middle of the field routes. Showed good eye discipline in coverage and reacted well to the quarterbacks’ eyes. I didn’t see him in man coverage a lot, and his frame/movement skills may suggest a struggle against shiftier running backs in space.

I watched a few 2019 games, and he looked much smoother as an athlete and mentally in the few 2020 games I witnessed. Seemed to take that big step in 2020, was a much better tackler in 2020. Very effective blitzer and has the size/profile of an EDGE player. 

Destroys running backs in pass protection and is a mismatch nightmare from that standpoint. He isn’t going to bend through contact against tackles consistently, but he does have violent hands and some pass-rushing moves that he leverages (chop/dip/rip and club/swim).

Overall, Collins has a unique blend of size, length, short-area quickness, linebacker skills, pass-rushing upside, and zone coverage ability. In the right scheme, like Pittsburgh or Baltimore, Collins could be an incredibly effective player in the NFL (not limited to those schemes). 

He’s very versatile and will be a defensive mismatch. As for the Giants, Patrick Graham would use him so efficiently in the box, next to Blake Martinez, while tormenting offenses with his blitzing upside. He would be a fun player to have, but he looks to possibly be a late Day 1 selection. 


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