Updated: Apr 19, 2021
By Adam Aniba
Draft Prospect Spotlight; Zaven Collins
As Washington heads into the offseason as defending NFC East champions, the focus will be on upgrading offensive skill positions, in addition to signing/drafting another quarterback. Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio was able to turn a bottom of the league defensive unit in 2019 to a top 5 ranked defensive unit in 2020. A lot of the team success is attributed to the play of Montez Sweat and DROA Chase Young along with a stout defensive line. Although the unit had a dramatic turnaround in 2020 against teams such as the Rams, Cardinals and Ravens, Washington's defensive unit fell flat.
Making upgrades in the defensive backfield will surely be a focus but middle linebacker is the top need on defense heading into the offseason. The linebacker play in 2020 was up and down. Stand out second year linebacker Cole Holcomb dealt with injury setbacks early but came on strong toward the end of the season. Next to Holcomb, Jon Bostic made a few key plays during the season but the journeyman seems better suited as a backup at this point. Finding a MIKE linebacker that can be effective against the run, but more importantly excel in coverage, is an issue Washington has failed to address in the early portions in the draft or free agency.
In this installment of Draft Prospect Spotlight, we take a look a Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins who could a 1st round difference maker for Washington, if available.
6'4" 260 lbs MLB/OLB
Univ of Tulsa
1st Round Grade Top 20
Career Stats (32 games) 236 TAK (129 solo), 25 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 5 INT's, 2 TD's, 8 PD, 3 FF and 3 FR
2020 (9 games) 54 TAK (36 solo), 7.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 4 INT's (152 ret yards), 2 TD's, 2 PD, 2 FF and 1 FR
Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins started his football career attending Hominy HS in Hominy, Oklahoma and made a name for himself playing on both sides of the ball as a LB/Safety and starting at Quarterback. As a dual threat signal caller, he finished his career registering 3,056 passing yards for 32 td's and 4,084 rushing yards for another 54 td's.
Collins' only scholarship offer came from the University of Tulsa, where Collins went on to redshirt in 2017 and later became the starting linebacker (2018-2020) registering 7.5 sacks, 5 INT's, 2 TD's, 8 PD, 3 FF and 3 FR.
Collins is a behemoth of a linebacker measuring 6'4" and tipping the scales at 260 lbs. Similar to current WFT defensive end Montez Sweat, he can set the edge with speed and power, but has the quickness to explode off the snap utilizing his combination of speed and power. Many expected Collins to run in the 4.45-4.50 second range in the forty yard dash during the NFL combine, but will have to show what he can do at his pro day. Although the Tulsa linebacker was effective as a situational edge rusher and playing close to the line, his ability in coverage is what sets him apart from the other linebackers in this draft.
The Tulsa linebacker lined up all over the field and had his best year in 2020 recording 54 TAK (36 solo), 7.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 4 INT's (152 ret yards), 2 TD's, 2 PD, 2 FF and 1 FR in only 9 games. Two interceptions came in key wins vs SMU and against Tulane in which Collins picked off a pass in the rezone, taking it 96 yards to the house. His 3 sack game vs Oklahoma State was also notable. Collins' skill-set against the run and in coverage make him one of the most intriguing prospects in this class. Add in the fact that Collins was a successful dual-threat, high school QB and the team that selects him will, arguably, get the most versatile defensive prospect in this draft.
Awards and Accolades
2020 Bronko Nagurski Trophy honoring the nation's best defensive player
2020 Butkus Award runner-up honoring the nation's best linebacker (Notre Dame LB Owusu-Koramoah winner)
2020 AP All-American
Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) All-American
2020 American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) All-American
2020 The Sporting News All-American
2020 CBS Sports All-American
Tale of the Tape
Instincts and ability to drop into coverage may be his best attribute
History as a HS quarterback aides him as the MIKE linebacker and a defensive signal caller
Disciplined eyes always focused on the ball (4 ints in 2020)
Very good hands for the position
Deceptive speed and understands pursuit angles
Displays the ability to redirect and chase the ball carrier effectively if out of position
Excellent in pursuit and will be the last player to stop on the whistle
Ballhawk linebacker always around the ball
Displays the ability to disengage quickly when offensive lineman or tight ends get grabby
Won't get lost in the wash and effective when lining up on the edge
Excellent wrap-up-tackler and doesn't go for the knockout blow
Fit in Washington
Some national evaluators have type-casted Collins as a 3-4 OLB or a strong side linebacker in a 4-3 alignment, opposed to a MIKE linebacker. Although Collins offers tremendous upside playing close to the line, his instincts and speed in coverage make him the most versatile MLB prospect in this class. With a weapon such as Collins, Defensive Coordinator, Jack Del Rio, would have a linebacker he could play close to the line pre-snap and drop him into coverage. Opposing teams have feasted on Washington's linebackers, especially when they have faced teams that boast elite pass catching.
At #19 a number of blue chip prospects could fall to Washington and, of course, free agency will impact the selection. One thing that isn't debatable is that Washington needs more than just Cole Holcomb and another bargain bin signing at linebacker. Pairing Zaven Collins with Cole Holcomb and allowing the Tulsa linebacker to be the MIKE of the defense, could be the piece that solidifies the team's front seven. It'll be up for debate between fans if Washington should draft yet another first round defender.
The versatility Collins provides as a rusher off the edge and as a coverage linebacker, make him an idea fit for Del Rio's defense.
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*Draft grades cross referenced with TDN grades