NFL Draft

Mel Kiper Jr. 2021 Mock Draft 1.0: Steelers Select Tulsa LB Zaven Collins 24th Overall

With Super Bowl LV now a little less than two weeks away, Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN decided Tuesday was a great time for him to release his first mock draft of 2021. In his first mock draft of 2021, Kiper has the Pittsburgh Steelers selecting Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins at 24th overall. Below is what Kiper wrote about him sending Collins to the Steelers in the first-round.

Pittsburgh lost five of its last six games after starting 11-0, and holes were exposed, particularly after edge rusher Bud Dupree tore his ACL in early December. And with Dupree now a free agent, this would be a pick to grab a replacement. Collins is a do-everything linebacker who had four sacks, four interceptions (two for TDs) and two forced fumbles on the way to winning the Nagurski Award last season. At 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, he could slot into Dupree’s position and excel at getting after quarterbacks or dropping into coverage to confuse offensive coordinators. Collins is a really intriguing chess piece for a smart defense. The Steelers could also think about offensive line with this pick.

For starters, I’m guessing Kiper has already forgot that the Steelers have outside linebacker Alex Highsmith already in place to take over for soon-to-be unrestricted free agent outside linebacker Bud Dupree, who is expected to sign elsewhere at some point during the offseason.

Secondly, Collins, while he was asked to occasionally rush off the edge in college, seems to be more of an off-the-ball linebacker. Below is what Pro Football Focus wrote about Collins at the end of December after naming him to their 2020 CFB All-American Team.

Collins is not just the top off-ball linebacker in the AAC this year; he has also been the best linebacker in the entire FBS. Collins leads the country in PFF grade at his position, and his standout coverage ability is a big reason why. As a matter of fact, Collins shattered the PFF College record for best single-season coverage grade by an off-ball linebacker this season, at 93.7, which was initially set by Eric Kendricks (92.1) back in 2014.

In his three seasons at Tulsa, Collins registered 236 total tackles of which 25 resulted in lost yardage. He also had 7.5 sacks in 32 games to go along with five interceptions, eight passes defensed, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

For what it’s worth, Collins is listed on the Tulsa website at 6-4, 260-pounds and that’s obviously not what the Steelers look for when it comes to off-the-ball linebackers. In fact, that’s more of what the Steelers look for when it comes to measureables for edge players that they use as outside linebackers.

Collins declared for the 2021 NFL Draft as an underclassman several weeks ago.

Our own Josh Carney recently profiled Collins for the site and you can read his scouting report on the Tulsa report at the link below.

Overall, Collins seems like he would best fit with the Steelers as an outside linebacker because of his measureless. It will, however, be interesting to see how he times, runs and jumps at his pro day this offseason. In short, it’s ridiculously hard to imagine the Steelers selecting Collins 24th overall this year.

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