Cardinals general manager Steve Keim on Thursday night said Zaven Collins had been a favorite target of Arizona for some time.
The Tulsa linebacker impressed throughout the evaluation process, from early scouts of his college games to the interview stage this offseason.
After the Cardinals selected him 16th overall, fans found it curious that Arizona picked an inside linebacker with their first-round choice for the second year in a row. Some draft analysts saw it as a reach for a player who was widely regarded as a late first-round talent.
Perhaps by a handful of picks. Collins was indeed earned a first-round grade by most evaluations. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound linebacker with unique coverage skills as one of the best college players in the past year. Draft analysts widely believe that all will translate.
It’s just that middle linebacker wasn’t the most pressing need for the Cardinals.
Here’s how the pick graded out across draft analysts.
He will add another big-time playmaker to a defense that needed it. He can run and chase or rush off the edge.
Zaven Collins can do everything on the football field. He’s got the size to hold up against offensive linemen versus the run and as a blitzer, and he has legitimate coverage skills on the backend. The Cardinals needed to get younger in their front seven and they have a nice player to pair with Isaiah Simmons for the foreseeable future.
This is an intriguing pick for the Cardinals, who spend a first-round pick on a versatile, positionless second-level defender for the second straight year. Collins joins Isaiah Simmons on Arizona’s defense, bringing the size and skill set to drop back and cover, play the run, and even rush the passer in some situations. Collins, who weighed in at 270 pounds at the NFL’s medical combine, has tweener size, though (is he a linebacker or defensive lineman?), so the Cardinals’ coaching staff better have a good plan for him.
The Cardinals go with a versatile linebacker in back-to-back first rounds after taking Isaiah Simmons in 2020. Collins has nice size and offers additional pass-rush and coverage ability, but he’s not the traditional edge producer or cornerback for which Arizona had bigger defensive needs. Collins is a bit of a reach, between a late first-rounder and early second-rounder on most boards.
Pick Grade: Average
A true physical throwback, Zaven Collins is 6-foot-5 and weighed in at 270 pounds in Indianapolis during medical checks. Despite that 1990s size, Collins had the highest PFF career coverage grade (93.6) of any linebacker in the draft class and continues the trend of Arizona drafting athletic and versatile players on defense. He allows them to implement some very interesting-looking defensive fronts in 2021.
He started 31 games and filled up the stat sheet with 30 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and five interceptions. Collins (6-foot-5, 259) offers size, length and versatility. He’s also really fun to watch.
Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph quietly did an excellent job last year as Arizona finished 10th in defensive efficiency. He should have fun finding ways to deploy Collins.