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.
Written by Joe Marino
Games watched: Oklahoma State (2019), Oklahoma State (2020), UCF (2020), SMU (2020), Tulane (2020).
Best Game Studied: UCF (2020)
Worst Game Studied: Oklahoma State (2019)
Tackling: Collins had inconsistent results as a tacker in my limited exposures from 2019, but 2020 tape revealed a mostly consistent finisher. Collins’ ability to process quickly, take precisely calculated angles, and play under control leads to tackling success. Collins’ size, physicality, and length are also major assets as a finisher and he routinely makes tackles outside of his frame.
Football IQ: Collins is a fast and accurate processor. He consistently reads his keys against the run and triggers downhill. He’s outstanding in zone coverage drops where his ability to read the backfield, squeeze routes, and work into throwing lanes is exceptional.
Competitive Toughness: As Collins has emerged at linebacker, his confidence and competitive toughness have shined. Collins consistently plays fast and is urgent in pursuit of the football. He brings terrific contact balance and power to the table, which leads to impact tackles. His size, athleticism, and urgency make him an imposing presence on the field.
Pass Coverage Ability: Collins is outstanding in zone coverage drops where he showcases the ability to read the backfield and work into throwing lanes to take away throws and disrupt at the catch point. His ball skills are terrific and he has a natural feel for driving on the football and making plays. Collins has the athleticism and fluidity to be an asset in man coverage but there weren’t many of those reps to evaluate in my exposures.
Run Defending: Collins is a very good run defender that processes quickly, triggers, and takes good angles to the football. Collins illustrates the ability to flow laterally to the football and make plays in space outside the tackles, but also play into the line of scrimmage and find success. There are some occasions where his lack of a plan for beating blocks delays his arrival to the football, but it’s a minor gripe and something that was a notable improvement in 2020.
Block Deconstruction: From a size, length, athleticism, and power standpoint, Collins has all of the traits needed to be successful taking on and shedding blocks. Unfortunately, there are those moments where he can be late to activate his hands or not have a plan to beat the block that takes him out of plays. Collins has had some success rushing off the edge, but it’s mostly due to length and athleticism. His game would go to an even higher level if he developed his pass-rushing skill set while improving his hand usage when rushing the passer.
Lateral Mobility: There just aren’t many defenders of Collins size that are capable of working laterally like him. He has terrific range and lateral mobility and it leads to frequent plays where he covers a considerable amount of ground. Collins showcases easy movement skills in zone coverage drops.
Flexibility: Collins is extremely loose and fluid for an off-ball linebacker of his stature. His flexibility shows up in lateral pursuit, in his pedal, rushing off the edge, playing in space, and tackling outside of his frame. His transitions to trigger downhill and change directions also reveals a loose and fluid frame.
Leadership: Collins is an alpha on the field in everything he does. There are plenty of instances where he is communicating to his teammates and makes sure guys have the right calls and are lined up correctly. His frequent clutch plays in critical moments speaks to his leadership ability. In addition to playing linebacker and safety for four seasons in high school, Collins was also a four-year starter at quarterback, so that experience commanding the huddle on both sides of the football is an asset to him.
Versatility: Collins is exceptionally versatile and capable of filling any imaginable role for a linebacker. He’s a strong run defender, potent pass rusher, and an outstanding coverage defender. He didn’t play much on special teams at Tulsa, but he projects favorably to doing so in the NFL.
Prospect Comparison: Anthony Barr (2014 NFL Draft, Minnesota Vikings)
TDN Consensus: 83.75/100
Joe Marino: 84.50/100
Kyle Crabbs: 82.50/100
Jordan Reid: 84.00/100
Drae Harris: 84.00/100