The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of many NFL organizations who could be looking at a linebacker in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. However, unlike the other franchises who are looking to add to their current depth chart, the Steelers possess the 24th overall pick.
The question isn’t whether a linebacker will be available at No. 24, but if there is a linebacker who is worthy of a first round pick. The past two weeks I talked about quarterbacks, both top tier and mid tier signal callers, and running backs. Now it is time to go to the other side of the ball and look at some defenders.
It felt appropriate to first break down a player many Steelers fans have been talking about the past few weeks, and that would be none other than Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins.
I know what you might be thinking, “Tulsa has a football team?”
They do. They have uniforms and everything!
All joking aside, Collins has the look of a very special player, the type of player you dream about roaming sideline to sideline with Devin Bush in the black and gold. But is Collins worth a first round pick? Does Collin’s talent trump the Steelers’ needs at other positions?
We all know the Steelers will want to add to their linebacker depth, but will it be in the draft, or via Free Agency? As of right now, the Steelers could be poised to take a defender, but I don’t think they would have to take Collins in the first round.
Don’t listen to me, or anyone else, form your own opinion on Collins. I plan on doing this for other prospects as the draft approaches. If there is a specific player you’d like to see covered, simply let me know and I’ll be glad to put it together!
Let us know your thoughts on Collins in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the new league year, NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.
- Position: Linebacker
- School: Tulsa
- Current Year: Redshirt Junior
- Height: 6’4″
- Weight: 260 pounds
Tony Pauline’s Zaven Collins Scouting Report
Positives: Explosive, game-impacting linebacker who was a three-year starter for Tulsa. Instinctive, breaks down well, and quickly locates the ball handler. Forceful up the field and plays with balance as well as body control. Gives effort defending the run and attacks assignments as well as opponents.
Big, strong, and defeats blocks to make the play. Easily gets back to playing balance off the initial block and quickly changes direction or alters his angle of attack without losing momentum. Terrific pass rusher who bends off the edge with speed. Explodes through gaps to penetrate the line of scrimmage. Very effective making plays in space, fluid moving laterally and shows speed in pursuit. Stays with assignments, possesses solid ball skills, and stands out in coverage.
Negatives: Not overly quick. Occasionally gets caught upfield and out of position.
Analysis: Collins is a game-impacting defender and one of the more understated prospects in this year’s draft. He’s not the small run-and-chase linebacker teams prefer these days. Rather, he’s a throwback of sorts, and possesses the size as well as speed to be a pass rusher as well as play in coverage. Collins is a true three-down defender who should quickly break into a starting lineup and comes with outstanding scheme versatility.
After a high school career in which Zaven Collins was a four-year starter at quarterback and linebacker/safety, Tulsa was the only Division I program to offer him a scholarship. He ended his college career by claiming the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which is awarded to the nation’s best defensive player. Collins offers 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. He demonstrated notable growth in 2020, becoming a complete defender and making high-impact, clutch plays seemingly every week. The Belichick disciples and teams that deploy that style of defense are likely salivating over Collins’ skill set and he projects as an impact defender in the NFL that can make plays in a variety of ways.
Ideal Role: Starting linebacker given opportunities to rush the passer, drop in coverage, play downhill, and in space.
Scheme Fit: Collins projects favorably to a defense that is multiple with its alignments that presents the opportunity for him to unleash the full breadth of his skill set.
A relatively unknown prospect who catapulted to first-round conversation after a productive 2020 season. A former three-star recruit out of Hominy, Oklahoma, where he attended Hominy High School. He was the 2,142nd ranked recruit in the 2017 cycle, according to 247 sports.
He blocked two kicks as a special teamer. Had a career-high 14 tackles against an SEC opponent (Arkansas) and came up big in clutch situations on the schedule. Collins possesses a unique blend of size, length, smarts, and playmaking ability. His versatility along the defensive front will intrigue teams throughout the draft process.
He packed on 40 pounds of good weight in college and had a productive career at Tulsa. He was a Freshman All-American, and he won the Bronco Nagurski Award and the Chuck Bednarik award in 2020—the nation’s top defensive player and linebacker. He played in 32 career games at Tulsa and recorded 236 tackles, 25.0 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, five interceptions, and two defensive touchdowns, as well as three forced fumbles and eight passes defended.
Linebackers aren’t developed with the type of size that Collins possesses. He has a big tight ends body as a middle linebacker who can play on the EDGE a little bit. Thick limbed incredible length, and solid overall athlete who possesses good short-area quickness and burst. He lacks top-end speed and isn’t the quick Devin White type of linebacker—his speed isn’t a liability but isn’t an advantage either.
Freak size and length assist him in almost all facets of the game - his skill-set and size are rare. His tackle radius is insanely large, and he’s a sound tackler when filling. He comes downhill hard and aggressive and hits low with solid power. (I would expect more power consistently, to be frank.)
He is an excellent backside pursuit defender with a great closing burst; long strides his way to track down running backs and make aggressive tackles on the football.