LB prospect Zaven Collins wants to play as off-the-ball LB

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Jess Root
·3 min read
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Tulsa linebacker prospect Zaven Collins is an intriguing player. He is probably the second-best off-the-ball linebacker in the draft behind Penn State’s Micah Parsons, but Collins is extraordinarily big for someone at the position.

He is 6-foot-4 and weighed in at 259 pounds at his pro day. He is built like an edge rusher and plays like a safety. He isn’t extremely fast, as he ran the 40 in 4.67 seconds, but that is still very good for his size.

He is big. He is athletic. He can move. In eight games for Tulsa in 2020, he had 54 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and four interceptions. He returned two of them for touchdowns.

At his size, some might view him as more valuable playing off the edge. He is the size the Arizona Cardinals would want in an outside linebacker.

However, Collins knows where his strengths are and would prefer to do what he did in college.

When he spoke to reporters virtually on his pro day, he was asked about what position he wants to play.

“I know no defenses right now, but I think the thing that best suits me is my abilities to be accommodated to whatever position,” he said. “So I would say that the position that’s able to let someone run, chase down, make tackles in the backfield, be in coverage, just run sideline to sideline. Whatever position that is for a team, that’s the position I’d like to be in.”

For teams that run a 3-4 scheme like the Cardinals, that would be an inside linebacker position. In a 4-3, it might be middle linebacker or one of the two outside linebacker positions.

He said he has been asked if he would be comfortable in a 3-4 scheme as an outside linebacker. That is more of a pass-rushing position, though.

“I said any position that allows me to run, move freely, not confine me to really one side, to let me be really involved in the defense is what’s going to best suit me mostly because I just have a knack for the football, like being around the football, like being able to run,” he explained. “So in some defenses, it’s very suitable for me to be in the outside linebacker position and in some defenses it’s not so suitable because you’re strictly basically like a rush end.”

He did add, though, “but it’s something I’m open to.”

The Cardinals are notorious for drafting players and changing their positions. They did it with Deone Bucannon, taking a safety and making him a linebacker. Haason Reddick was a defensive end in college and they tried to move him to inside linebacker. Isaiah Simmons played more safety in college but he has moved to linebacker.

It doesn’t sound like Collins would love it if the Cardinals drafted him and wanted to make him a pass rusher off the edge. It doesn’t play to his strengths.

There is the chance the Cardinals could draft him, even if they stayed at No. 16. He would be perfect to replace Jordan Hicks, who might be in his last season with the team. It could potentially give them a young duo of Collins and Simmons to cover the middle of the field.

But if the Cardinals draft him to convert him to an edge rusher, it might be another case where they see a player fail to develop or produce.

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