Tulsa coach: Zaven Collins hasn’t hit his ceiling yet, ready to play
Even though Arizona Cardinals linebacker Zaven Collins was rated as one of the top defensive players in the 2021 NFL Draft, he’s still relatively new to his position.
The Cardinals selected Collins with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft on Thursday night and Tulsa head coach Philip Montgomery thinks Collins still has room to grow.
“He’s always looking to improve,” Montgomery told Doug & Wolf on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “He’s still young at that position. Coming out of high school he was a quarterback and free safety.
“So he’s only been playing linebacker for a couple of years now and he knows he’s still growing. He hasn’t hit a ceiling yet, and he’s still got a long way from it, but he’s playing pretty well right now I can tell you that.”
Montgomery didn’t shy away from praising the 2020 Bronko Nagurski Award winner, saying Collins had a commanding presence within the Golden Hurricane’s program.
“He’s just got a presence about him,” Montgomery said. “As you get to know him, he’s got a little aura about him. … When he talks, people listen. He backs it up with what he does on and off the field.
“He’s one of the hardest workers we have in our program,” Montgomery said. “Whether you’re talking about in the weight room, whether you’re talking about a guy that’s going to be in the film room, he’s going to get his work done and then take it onto the field.”
That work in the weight and film room translated in 2020. In eight games, Collins racked up 54 tackles, four sacks and four interceptions. Collins also had a knack for finding the end zone, returning two of those interceptions for touchdowns. After his stellar season, Collins was named an All-American and the AAC Defensive Player of the Year.
Despite the Cardinals having Jordan Hicks, Collins comes to the Valley with the belief he could become the starting middle linebacker right away but knows he needs to earn the job, according to Montgomery.
“He’s planning on coming in there and starting game one,” Montgomery said. “Now he knows he’s got work to do. He knows he’s got to go win the job, yet his mindset is going to be I want to be that guy I’m gonna do everything I can to be that guy.”