Excellent combination of size, speed and athleticism
Capable pass-coverage linebacker
Makes splash plays
Makes big plays in pass coverage
Can help cover running backs and tight ends
Good sub-package linebacker
Instinctive in coverage
Quick; covers a lot of ground
Runs well for a big linebacker
Advance cover skills for a big linebacker
Covers a lot of ground in zone coverage
Can run down the middle seam
Impressive ball skills for a linebacker
Dangerous edge rusher
Fires into the backfield to pressure QBs quickly
Ability to redirect
Uses length to get off blocks
Good pursuit run-defender
Could struggle taking on and shedding blocks from pro linemen
Instincts need improvement
Needs to improve vision
Not a physical presence
Not a physical tackler
Summary: In the strange 2020 football season, offenses led by point-scoring machines, like Alabama, Florida, Ohio State and Clemson, really dominated. The lack of tough defenses is reflected in the depleted class of defensive talent for the 2021 NFL Draft, but Zaven Collins was one defensive prospect who really helped himself in 2020. One could make an argument that Collins was the nation's best defensive player in 2020, totaling four interceptions, four sacks, two forced fumbles, two passes defended, 54 tackles and two touchdowns, including an overtime game-winning pick-six against Tulane.
The 2020 season was not Collins' first good year, as he notched 97 tackles, two sacks and three passes broken up in 2019. As a freshman, he put together 85 tackles, 1.6 sacks, an interception and three passes defended. His production over three seasons was impressive considering he was new to the linebacker position. In high school, he played quarterback and safety in small-town Oklahoma. Collins suggested his significant athletic upside as a high school senior by throwing for over 4,000 yards and running for over 3,000 yards.
Modern NFL defenses need linebackers who are capable of contributing to pass coverage given how much passing drives today's game. Collins is that kind of linebacker, as he is a true asset to defend passing attacks while having the size of some defensive ends. He can do some very unique things in pass coverage as a linebacker. Collins has explosive speed, athleticism, an ability to cover, an ability to and play in space. He can cover a lot of ground in zone coverage while also helping to pick up tight ends and running backs. With his size, he can be a middle or outside linebacker in pass coverage. Thus, Collins is an excellent fit as a sub-package linebacker for the pro game.
On top of being able to cover, Collins can rush off the edge, possessing the speed to blow by offensive tackles and close on the quarterback in a hurry. He is agile to dodge blockers and uses his length to shed blocks. In the NFL, Collins could fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker who rushes the quarterback on a consistent basis yet also is a good option to drop in coverage. That kind of linebacker makes it tough on quarterbacks and offensive coordinators to know what to do post-snap.
In the ground game, Collins uses his length to get off blocks and is a good pursuit defender. Some teams are knocking Collins, however, because he is not a physical defender to take on blocks from guards and offensive tackles. Those naysayers also believe he is not a forceful tackler and needs to improve in that regard to avoid broken tackles on pro running backs.
Collins has a great skill set with size, speed and athleticism, but he still needs development for the NFL. Considering his late transition to linebacker, one can understand why his instincts require improvement. His college coaching staff also appears not to have trained him on where his eyes need to be and how to read keys. Thus, Collins could really benefit from landing with good NFL coaches.
After some skepticism from NFL scouts at the start of the fall, many were raving about Collins by the end of the season. They feel he could be a 4-3 Sam linebacker or Mike - middle - linebacker while also being a great fit as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. In the 2021 NFL Draft, Collins should go no lower than the second round.
Player Comparison: Jamie Collins/Kyle Van Noy. Collins is like a mix of Jamie Collins (6-3, 255) and Kyle Van Noy (6-3, 250). Zaven Collins' cover skills and run-defense issues are reminiscent of Van Noy, while Zaven Collins' pass-rush ability and speed are reminiscent of Jamie Collins. Zaven Collins is slightly bigger, but similar size to both of those pro linebackers. Both Jamie Collins and Van Noy were second-round picks, and Zaven Collins should go no later than the second round in the 2021 NFL Draft.