Name: Zaven Collins
NFL Grade: 6.39 (will be starter within first two seasons)
Stats: Tulsa's Zaven Collins finished the 2020 season with a host of hardware including the Bronko Nagurski Award for the nation's best defensive player, the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Lombardi Award, while being named the CFB on FOX Defensive Player of the Year. It came after he was a consensus All-America selection as he amassed 53 tackles, 11.5 for loss, 4.0 sacks, four interceptions for 152 return yards, two pass breakups, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one safety in eight games as a redshirt junior.
During his time at Tulsa, he was a three-year letterwinner and three-year starter, starting 30 of the 32 games he played in. He totaled 235 career tackles, 29 for loss, 7.5 sacks, eight pass breakups, five interceptions, three fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles. He also blocked two kicks.
Comments: In high school, Collins was a first-team all-state defender in Hominy, Oklahoma while also playing quarterback. He was his class valedictorian and elected to redshirt his first year at Tulsa where, according to NFL.com, he played tight end for the scout team.
He settled in at linebacker but his versatility continued on defense. Classified as an inside backer by the Golden Hurricane, Collins also came off the edge to rush the passer. At his size, he seems to fit more as an outside linebacker at the NFL level, though he has ball skills and is excellent in coverage.
"Combines rare size and athleticism as a big outside linebacker," writes Zierlein. "Collins is a team-oriented defender willing to plug gaps and spill the action wide for teammates to run down. He's rangy with the burst and length to track and capture his prey from the back side or out on the perimeter. His athletic gifts help him overcome his tardiness in diagnosing the action. There is still room for improvement when it comes to taking on blocks and pursuing with proper leverage so cutbacks don't cross his face. The second effort is evident with how frequently he's able to recover from an early block and still make plays. He's aware and dangerous in spot drops with the read and reaction to jump the passing lane. Collins could use more aggression in his play demeanor, but his combination of talent and traits should make him a productive pro starter."
That interesting mix of abilities between his size, speed and ball awareness make him an intriguing prospect for the Bucs' hybrid 3-4 defense. On more than one occasion last season, we saw edge guys Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul drop into coverage rather than key in on the quarterback. JPP even managed multiple interceptions this past season for the first time in his career. Collins stands at the same height as Pierre-Paul but tallied five interceptions in two seasons at Tulsa.
With how smart Collins is too, he could certainly grasp a complex role within the Bucs' defense that his athletic ability would allow. The question is if Tampa Bay sees that fit as worth it with their first pick, because Collins isn't likely to be around after.