It wasn’t any surprise that Zaven Collins was the first AAC player taken in the 2021 NFL Draft. At six-foot and four inches tall, the 260 lb linebacker is a freak athlete with insane size, speed, motor, and technical ability. While there are some concerns as to whether or not he should be playing linebacker or defensive end in the NFL due to his size, the All-American, AAC Defensive Player of the Year, Nagurski Trophy, Bednarik and Lombardi Award winning Collins was always a no-brainer 1st round talent.
The Arizona Cardinals saw that, and took Collins as the second linebacker off the board, ahead of players like Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. The only linebacker taken before Collins was Penn State’s Micah Parsons.
So, the question is whether or not Arizona is a good fit for Collins.
To properly answer this, you have to first decide where Collins is going to play on the field. Is Collins an inside linebacker at the next level, or will he be moved to play as an edge rusher? At Tulsa, he proved he has the skillset to play either position.
The Cardinals took Isaiah Simmons in the top ten of the NFL Draft last season, but he hasn’t quite come into his own yet. However, Simmons’ skillset makes him more effective working as an outside linebacker who can kick out into coverage.
The Cardinals GM, Steve Keim, identified Collins as an inside linebacker who he was happy to see was still on the board at 16. That certainly sounds like he’s going to stay in the middle of the field. He also said that he looks at Collins as a great compliment to Simmons.
Essentially, it sounds like the Cardinals may use their speed, sideline-to-sideline skillset, and especially their ability in man coverage to help against opposing passing attacks in the NFC West. This would make a lot of sense for a 4-2 base defensive front. You have linebackers who can stand up to offensive linemen against the run, while capably slowing the passing attacks from the likes of Russell Wilson and Matthew Stafford.
Collins is the first Tulsa player to be drafted in the 1st round since Steve August in 1977. August was a guard taken by the Seattle Seahawks. Collins and August are two of only three Tulsa players to ever be taken in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. The third was Glenn Dobbs in 1943-a College Football Hall of Fame back. This doesn’t happen often for Tulsa, so don’t take it lightly.
As for the AAC, this is the first player the conference has had taken in the 1st round since Ed Oliver went to the Buffalo Bills at number nine in 2019. Going back to the 2014 NFL Draft, the first which saw the AAC represented, Collins is the 12th player taken in the first round from the AAC.