With mere hours between us and the 2021 NFL Draft many ‘draft experts’ and fans alike are putting out their final editions of their personal mock drafts. If you have been reading these mock drafts you will have certainly noticed the pure volume of times Alabama running back Najee Harris is expected to be the pick. You may have also noticed a couple other things, one of which being offensive lineman are now virtually nowhere to be seen. But for the purpose of today’s article we will be looking at the second most frequent mock drafted player to the Pittsburgh Steelers. That being Tulsa linebacker, Zaven Collins.
For many, imagining the Steelers drafting a position that isn't running back, center, tackle, or cornerback with their first round pick doesn't make much sense. I’m sure many people will question further why a linebacker of all positions. Well, today we will dive in on Zaven Collins’ fit on the Steelers, how he could revolutionize the defense, and why he would likely be the best player available on the board when it’s the Steelers turn to pick.
Zaven Collins with the Pick 6!— Tyler Wiederhoeft (@TDWiederhoeft) October 24, 2020
First he forces the big fumble at the end of the first half, now, he takes it in for 6.
I think Tulsa really enjoys playing in the Sunshine State. pic.twitter.com/aOfrzA5fwM
Before we get to these reasons I also wanted to touch on one of the elephants in the room. Yes, neither Mike Tomlin or Kevin Colbert attended Tulsa’s pro day, and yes Tulsa is not a Power 5 school. While Steelers first round draft picks tend to have Tomlin/Colbert pro day attendance, and historically come from the biggest schools in the country, it’s important to keep in mind these aren't official rules. The Steelers did send a scout and a linebackers coach to watch almost every prospect’s Pro Day. Also, Power 5 schools typically have the most high end NFL Draft talent, making it merely a coincidence. Ben Roethlisberger came out of the MAC after all, and the Steelers were set on taking the American conference’s William Jackson III in 2016 before the Bengals swooped took him a pick before.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into why you continue to see Zaven Collins being mocked to the Steelers.
Linebacker Depth Chart
We will start this one off with what appears to be a hot take, but in all honesty is more of a tough pill to swallow. Outside of a returning Devin Bush, the Steelers inside linebacker depth chart is not that strong. Hear me out on this, Vince Williams returning to the Pittsburgh Steelers on a one-year veteran minimum deal probably denotes the final year of Williams’ career. The man has made a career out of big hits and tackles for loss, but often times was left out to dry in defensive schemes demanding him to drop into coverage. Collins on the other hand is the highest graded college coverage linebacker since 2011, while also being the size of a Mack truck. The Steelers won't want to find a linebacker in 2022 when they should be looking to deal draft capital for their next quarterback.
Robert Spillane basically said he is training to be the Steelers sub package dime linebacker. Which is a solid role for him. In these situations Collins could rotate down to the edge and rush the passer. Because, not only is he good at it, but T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith do not have a back up good enough to give them any rest. You kill two birds with one stone by drafting Collins.
How @ZavenCollins describes himself: Versatile, athletic, freakish— NFL (@NFL) April 22, 2021
Which team is drafting the @TulsaFootball star LB?
: 2021 #NFLDraft - 4/29 to 5/1 on NFLN/ESPN/ABC pic.twitter.com/t0hRM0dw4V
Revolutionizes the Defense
Collins ability to blitz, sniff out screen passes, tackle running backs, and drop back in coverage gives the Steelers so much flexibility with their linebackers they could play a whole new style of defense. Instead of being forced into nickel defense, the Steelers could simply bump out either Collins or Devin Bush and find success in coverage.
They also wouldn't skip a beat from the loss of Mike Hilton because of Collins ability to get to the passer. Bottom line is the Steelers could do more than ever before with their linebackers. Collins has also stated he is more than willing to be a quarterback spy, and when you're in a division with Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow, having someone who can do that is a huge bonus.
You can’t teach size, and Zaven Collins has plenty of it. Standing a smidge under 6’5” and currently tipping the scales at 270 pounds Collins will instantly be one of the biggest linebackers in the NFL. Collins uses his incredible length to bat down passes and punch footballs out of ball carriers’ arms. With NFL development, Collins’ massive frame will be used like a deadly weapon.
Dynamite College Tape
I highly suggest you spend some time watching Collins’ college tape. There’s a reason why he is the reigning Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner as college football’s top defender. From game-winning walk off pick-6’s, forcing safeties, sacks, big hits, tackles for loss, and turnovers, he can do it all. No matter when Tulsa played, Zaven Collins was the best player on the field, and it immediately jumps off the screen when you watch it for yourself.
Zaven Collins is a 6’4” 260 lbs. Linebacker out of Tulsa that can move like this. This was a 96-yard game winning, walk off Pick 6 in OT. No big deal. Sure fire 1st rounder next month.— Steven Cheah (@StevenCheah) March 14, 2021
Best Player Available
When it is the Steelers’ turn to pick at 24, there's a real chance that the top offensive lineman, and other skill players are off the board. There’s even a 50-50 shot that someone drafts or trades past the Steelers to claim Najee Harris. In all likelihood, the best player available will be this kid. If the Steelers want to stick to the best player available approach then this could very well be the name we hear.
Zaven Collins shoots the gap and brings the back down for a safety. That’s 6’3 256 lbs MOVING! pic.twitter.com/2LA6zFunwQ— Lorenz (@ScoutingLenz) December 23, 2020
So what do you think? If Zaven Collins is the best remaining player on the board should the Steelers take him? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below.