Zaven Collins to the Cardinals: 1st-round NFL Draft grades

Apr 30, 2021, 8:29 AM

Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins claps after completing the bench press during NFL football pro day i...

Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins claps after completing the bench press during NFL football pro day in Tulsa, Okla., in this Friday, April 2, 2021, file photo. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

Cardinals general manager Steve Keim on Thursday night said Zaven Collins had been a favorite target of Arizona for some time.

The Tulsa linebacker impressed throughout the evaluation process, from early scouts of his college games to the interview stage this offseason.

After the Cardinals selected him 16th overall, fans found it curious that Arizona picked an inside linebacker with their first-round choice for the second year in a row. Some draft analysts saw it as a reach for a player who was widely regarded as a late first-round talent.

Was it?

Perhaps by a handful of picks. Collins was indeed earned a first-round grade by most evaluations. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound linebacker with unique coverage skills as one of the best college players in the past year. Draft analysts widely believe that all will translate.

It’s just that middle linebacker wasn’t the most pressing need for the Cardinals.

Here’s how the pick graded out across draft analysts.

CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco

Grade: B+

He will add another big-time playmaker to a defense that needed it. He can run and chase or rush off the edge.

For The Win

Grade: B-

Zaven Collins can do everything on the football field. He’s got the size to hold up against offensive linemen versus the run and as a blitzer, and he has legitimate coverage skills on the backend. The Cardinals needed to get younger in their front seven and they have a nice player to pair with Isaiah Simmons for the foreseeable future.

The Ringer

Grade: B

This is an intriguing pick for the Cardinals, who spend a first-round pick on a versatile, positionless second-level defender for the second straight year. Collins joins Isaiah Simmons on Arizona’s defense, bringing the size and skill set to drop back and cover, play the run, and even rush the passer in some situations. Collins, who weighed in at 270 pounds at the NFL’s medical combine, has tweener size, though (is he a linebacker or defensive lineman?), so the Cardinals’ coaching staff better have a good plan for him.

Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer

Grade: B-

The Cardinals go with a versatile linebacker in back-to-back first rounds after taking Isaiah Simmons in 2020. Collins has nice size and offers additional pass-rush and coverage ability, but he’s not the traditional edge producer or cornerback for which Arizona had bigger defensive needs. Collins is a bit of a reach, between a late first-rounder and early second-rounder on most boards.


Pick Grade: Average

A true physical throwback, Zaven Collins is 6-foot-5 and weighed in at 270 pounds in Indianapolis during medical checks. Despite that 1990s size, Collins had the highest PFF career coverage grade (93.6) of any linebacker in the draft class and continues the trend of Arizona drafting athletic and versatile players on defense. He allows them to implement some very interesting-looking defensive fronts in 2021.

The Athletic’s Sheil Kapadia

Grade: B

He started 31 games and filled up the stat sheet with 30 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and five interceptions. Collins (6-foot-5, 259) offers size, length and versatility. He’s also really fun to watch.

Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph quietly did an excellent job last year as Arizona finished 10th in defensive efficiency. He should have fun finding ways to deploy Collins.

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Zaven Collins to the Cardinals: 1st-round NFL Draft grades