From now until the 2021 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#23 Zaven Collins/LB/Tulsa/6’4”, 260 Lbs
-Instinctive linebacker who flows well sideline-to-sideline
-Sound tackler with wide tackle radius
-Flashed legitimate next-level pass rushing ability inside and out
-Possesses impressive ball skills for a linebacker
-Readers quarterback’s eyes well; finds himself around the football a ton; former high school safety
-Real defensive chess piece that can move all over and make plays
-Size and length a real asset for him at linebacker
-Struggles with misdirection and play-action and can run himself out of plays
-Wasn’t really asked to play in man coverage so his ability to play in man is unknown
-Needs to work on developing hand usage as a pass rusher
-Took a major step forward in 2020 in comparison to 2019; flash in the pan?
-Named 2020 Bronco Nagurski Award winner as nation’s top linebacker
-Named 2020 Chuck Bednarik Award winner as nation’s top defensive player
-Played and started in 32 career games at Tulsa
-Finished three-year career with 236 tackles, 25.0 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, five interceptions and two defensive touchdowns
-Named a 2018 Freshman All-American
-Three-year letter winner at Tulsa
In a wild 2020 season, there might not be a defender that helped improve his stock and professional outlook more than Tulsa standout linebacker Zaven Collins, who blew up onto the scene, winning the 2020 Nagurski and Bednarik awards.
Collins is likely going to be the biggest linebacker in the draft class, depending on full declarations. He looks more like an edge rusher with safety skills than he does an inside linebacker.
Really, he reminds me a ton of Minnesota All-Pro linebacker Anthony Barr. Collins can rush the passer, has terrific ball skills for a linebacker, and has great instincts, making plays all over the place for the Hurricanes.
As a pass rusher, Collins displayed the ability to dip under blocks and turn corners, tracking down quarterbacks for sacks on a consistent basis in 2020.
Collins does a fantastic job here reading the play in front of him, diagnosing pass and bursting through the line on the delayed blitz for the sack.
Look at the way he’s able to dip his shoulder and turn the corner for the sack.
He flashed the same thing later on in the year against Southern Methodist.
Collins flashes a quick stab to the chest against the Mustangs’ left tackle, but what stands out here is the dip of his inside shoulder to keep him clean. Collins then shows off the burst turning the corner to track down the quarterback for the sack off the edge.
Against the run, Collins shows the ability to diagnose plays quickly and shoot gaps to make stops.
Look at how quickly he reads run here, knifes through the gap and makes a great stop on the Central Florida running back for the safety.
His ability to diagnose this run so quickly has a lot to do with film study. Aside from that, that’s some impressive burst upfield from Collins.
Collins is comfortable dropping into space in coverage and does a great job taking away angles and closing down throwing windows. What most impresses me with Collins in coverage though is his ability to read the quarterback’s eyes and make plays on the football near the line of scrimmage.
Collins also flashes great hands, and just look at the way he opens it up with the football in his hands, running away from everyone for the 97-yard pick-six.
I do have some concerns with Collins relying so heavily on his eyes, leading him to run himself out of plays due to play-action and misdirection, but I have never quite seen a defender make the jump Collins did from 2019 to 2020.
He looks like a four-down player who can line up anywhere on defense and could be a special teams terror for someone early in his career. I do think he might fall to the second day of the draft due to his level of competition, but I get serious Anthony Barr vibes overall.
Projection: Early Day 2
Games Watched: Oklahoma State (2020), Central Florida (2020), Southern Methodist (2020), South Florida (2020), Tulane (2020)