The Arizona Cardinals have drafted Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins with the 16th pick in the 2021 NFL draft. It is the second year in a row they have drafted a linebacker in the first round.
After he was drafted, there was initially some question about where he would play in the Cardinals’ defense. General manager Steve Keim and head coach Kliff Kingsbury made it clear he has a spot and only one.
He will play MIKE linebacker, the inside linebacker position where Jordan Hicks starts.
When he was drafted, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted Collins was slated to replace Haason Reddick, who signed with the Carolina Panthers in free agency after a career season in 2020. Rapoport indicated Collins would play SAM backer, which is an edge position at outside linebacker for the Cardinals.
That will not be the case.
“He’ll line up at MIKE linebacker for us, so right by Isaiah Simmons,” Keim told reporters after the selection was made.
When asked if he felt Collins was a hybrid or positionless player, Keim was clear.
“I don’t think he’s a guy who’s a positionless player. I think he’s a guy that’s a MIKE linebacker,” he said. “It isn’t like this is a projection.
“I think he’s got all the traits you look for.”
That means he comes in to ultimately unseat Hicks, one of the team’s captains last season.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury said they would “work through” the playing time but did say, “we do expect him to come in and play a lot immediately.”