LB Zaven Collins, Tulsa* (6’4”, 260)
Has been a major contributor since his redshirt freshman year, a season in which he posted a line of 85-9.5-1.5 with an interception and a forced fumble. Followed that up with 97-8.0-2.0 as a sophomore, and in just eight games this past season, posted a line of 54-7.5-4.0 with four interceptions and four forced fumbles, as well as two defensive touchdowns. Won the Nagurski and Bednarik awards this past season, being considered college football’s best defensive player.
Typically lines up on the weakside as an off-ball linebacker. Combines a conservative approach with high-end athleticism. Very instinctive player who does a great job of reading keys and taking efficient angles to the ball. Has excellent range, especially for his size; a true sideline-to-sideline player. Generally does a good job of breaking down to avoid coming in too fast and blowing by runners. Closing burst is very impressive when working from the backside. Length gives him an impressive tackling radius. Has good speed and impressive hips when dropping into zones. Plays light on his feet and anticipates passing lanes well, using his length to bat down throws. Sniffs out screens and makes his way to the sidelines. Physical profile could allow him to match up against tight ends and carry backs into the flats or down the field. Can anticipate snap counts and get penetration as a blitzer. Not just a gap-shooter at the snap; also flashes the ability to dip his shoulder or use his hands to work past blockers as an edge rusher.
Not the most physical player when working through trash, especially given his size; played behind a lot of three-man lines at the college level, but looks best when he’s flowing laterally. Would like to see him show more of a sense of urgency to shed in those situations. Wasn’t asked to work in man-to-man coverage very often, although he has the tools to do so. Could stand to clean up his footwork a little bit when making spot drops.
An intelligent, rangy, and versatile linebacker who comes with three years of high-level production and who is well-suited to an every-down role at the next level, being capable of reading keys and flowing sideline-to-sideline in the running game and blitzing or dropping into zone coverage in the passing game, demonstrating the ability to read a quarterback’s eyes, flip his hips, and disrupt passing lanes. Looks like a first-round pick and future starter.