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Rapid Reactions: Cardinals go defense with Zaven Collins in NFL Draft

Zaven Collins #23 of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane runs in a 38-yard touchdown after intercepting Noah Johnson #0 of the South Florida Bulls during the third quarter at Raymond James Stadium on October 23, 2020 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

For the second straight year, the Arizona Cardinals have drafted a linebacker.

Tulsa’s Zaven Collins was the selection at No. 16 in the 2021 NFL Draft, following the pick of Isaiah Simmons eighth last year.

The pick came with some of the most desirable names off the board, such as top corners Patrick Surtain II and Jaycee Horn, plus Alabama wideouts DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle.

Arizona Sports’ hosts and editors gave their thoughts on the pick

Dave Burns, co-host of Burns & Gambo

After reading the comments from Collins after his selection he seems an intelligent, well-spoken, highly motivated player with a terrific motor and a ton of self-confidence. Can you sense a “but” coming here? Well here you go:

But…this pick isn’t really resonating with me, which is a fancy way of saying I’m having a hard time getting behind it. For the third time in five years the Cards have selected a linebacker whose calling card is versatility. With Haason Reddick, that versatility manifested itself into uselessness until his last year and by then it was too late. It’s way too early to tell about Isaiah Simmons. Now the Cards have selected a player who looks like a jack-of-all-trades guy, which frightens me he’ll be a master of none.

Steve Keim is being very deliberate in pointing out that he is the MIKE LB and not some versatile player that can be moved all around the board, and yet, that’s exactly how Collins described himself. Can he transition to what the Cardinals want him to be? Does he supplant Jordan Hicks right away? And if he doesn’t, do the Cards move him around to get value out of him in his first year? Put it another way; I’m not a huge fan of throwing resources at the running back position, but I would have preferred Najee Harris here. Hope I’m wrong.

John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo

Look, you hear it all the time: “This was the player we really wanted. We didn’t expect him to be there.”

What I can tell you is that after the top three wide receivers (Ja’Marr Chase, Waddle and Smith) and the top two cornerbacks (Horn and Surtain) were off the board, Zaven Collins was absolutely 100% take it to the bank and bet a mortgage payment on it their top choice.

Now, he wasn’t No. 1 on their board, but he was the guy they wanted when they couldn’t land the wideouts or corners they loved. The Patriots would have taken him had they not chosen Mac Jones. Collins is a freak athlete. He will start Day One. Yes, day one over Jordan Hicks. I question whether Hicks will even be on the team now that they made this pick — but he could be insurance and doesn’t cost much after taking a pay cut.

I think this will end up being one of Steve Keim’s best draft picks – top 3 or 4. The Budda pick was great, Murray too. This pick will work out. Collins is a leader. He is big, strong, fast. A lot of people have no clue how good he is because they did not see him. Plug in the tape and be amazed. The Bears fans were not happy when they drafted that kid out of New Mexico – that Urlacher guy. I believe Collins has a real chance to be great.

Tyler Drake, ArizonaSports.com editor and reporter

Clearly, my mentions don’t like the pick, but hey, you can’t please everyone!

I think the Cardinals made the right move in adding Collins to the mix and thought he was the best available when No. 16 rolled around. The top wide receivers and cornerbacks were off the board, and nabbing a running back like Najee Harris that high would have been a reach. There is plenty of later-round options at those positions that GM Steve Keim can kick the tires on. Collins provides another athletic body for Vance Joseph to move around. Collins said he only dreamed of Arizona heading into the draft and envisions himself as a chess piece in a defense already filled with talent.

That sounds like someone you want on your roster. My only question is: Keim said he views Collins next to Isaiah Simmons, so where does that leave Jordan Hicks?

Kellan Olson, ArizonaSports.com editor and reporter

I guess that’s fine? The Cardinals seemed to have two things on their side in this draft: 1) they would fill a huge need if they could capitalize on a corner/wideout falling to them or 2) there were plenty of options left after that to make trading down an easy ask. Given the way the night unfolded in the top-12, it seemed like Arizona was going to trade down and should. Instead, they went and got their guy, and Steve Keim’s track record is not good enough to inspire a boatload of confidence. Another athletic linebacker? Eh.

Vince Marotta, Co-host of Bickley & Marotta

My first reaction was honestly, “wow, they’re really going down that Haason Reddick/Isaiah Simmons road again, aren’t they?”

But I do like the fact that Steve Keim was adamant that Zaven Collins has a position — MIKE linebacker — and they’ll stick to that, hoping to avoid the trappings of the last two linebackers the Cardinals have selected in the first round in the past five years.

Collins is a great story and an easy player to root for. His highlight film is amazing; you don’t see linebackers pick off passes and race 96 yards for a touchdown to ice a game in double overtime too often. His attitude seems perfect for a jump to the pros, but like Simmons before him, it’s fair to wonder how much virtual learning will stunt his growth in year one.


Phillips Law Group

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