Isaiah Simmons last year and now Zaven Collins in the 2021 NFL Draft — the Arizona Cardinals added an athletic linebacker to the team for the second time in two drafts.
The Cardinals selected Collins, the Tulsa product, with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2021 draft that kicked off Thursday.
In 32 career games over three seasons with the Golden Hurricanes, Collins tallied 236 tackles, 7.5 sacks and five interceptions.
Collins projects as a future starting mike linebacker alongside Simmons, but he could immediately be used in heavy linebacker packages that call for him to rush off the edge or drop in coverage.
With veteran Jordan Hicks, Collins and last year’s first-round draft pick Simmons on the roster, it becomes curious how defensive coordinator Vance Joseph will deploy his young linebackers.
Collins likely gives Joseph more defensive flexibility with his exotic pass-rush looks that last year at times utilized a full defensive front of smaller edge rushers, whose numbers disguised who was rushing the passer and who was dropping into coverage on late downs.
This past year, he produced 54 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles and four interceptions — including a a 96-yard pick-six — in just eight games. Collins was acknowledged as the nation’s best defensive player, winning the Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik awards.
The 6-foot-4, 260 pound linebacker was a true thumper in the second level, a player who can drop and has enough speed to hang in coverage despite his frame.
The Draft Network’s Joe Marino described Collins as “an exciting blend of size, length, power, football intelligence and versatility that makes him a dynamic prospect for the NFL.
“Whether it’s defending the run, dropping into coverage, or rushing the passer, Collins has the requisite skill set required to execute and was arguably the most dynamic defensive playmaker in college football for the 2020 season.”