Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Yup, that description fits Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins, whom the Las Vegas Raiders should target in the 2021 NFL Draft. All 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds of him. Oh wait, you thought this was about Superman? Well, sort of, except this Superman wears a helmet and shoulder pads, not a cape. In case you’re wondering, it’s unlikely he wears a cape underneath his uniform.
Zaven Collins has a pretty good resume
You might’ve seen a mock in which the Raiders take an edge rusher and a defensive tackle in the first two rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft, and that’s exactly what they need, but Collins is a player they should consider. If you want to develop a draft crush on someone, the all-everything linebacker should be the one.
If you haven’t heard of him or watch tape of him, you should do it. Beast, playmaker, difference maker, call him what you want. Collins won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy this past year, which honors the best defensive player in the country. On his way to winning the honor, the linebacker had 54 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, four interceptions, and two touchdowns. All of this in a shortened eight-game season.
If the Raiders ever needed a difference-maker at the linebacker position, it’s now. Collins is a true “alpha” in the middle of the defense. The shot caller, big baller with his size, strength, athleticism, and instincts. The kind of player who makes everyone around him better and raises them to his standard.
The Oklahoma native grew up playing quarterback in high school, which could’ve had an influence in his leadership and smarts. While watching Collins, he always looks like he knows what the offense is doing or trying to do. When’s the last time you heard that said about a Raiders’ defender?
Zaven Collins resembles a former Bears linebacker on paper
On paper, Collins compares favorably to Hall-of-Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher. Obviously because of their size but both were always making plays whether it was big hits, causing fumbles, or interceptions. These two unicorns are rare and hard to find, so if you have the chance to get one, you better.
Pro Football Focus has Collins rated at 32 on their big board with a 91.1 overall grade, leading all linebackers in college football. On the other hand, The Draft Network has Collins rated as their 19th best player, again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That’s what makes the NFL draft fun and exciting. Unless you’re a Raiders fan, that is. Then, it’s frustrating and heartbreaking.
The last time the Raiders drafted a linebacker in the first round was back in 2010, do you remember Rolando McClain? The Alabama product was the eighth overall pick selected by the late Al Davis, which surprised everyone. That turned out to be a horrible pick. As did most of his selections, but that’s a different article for a different time. Do you recall Napoleon Harris? Kirk Morrison? Greg Biekert? Or how about Matt Millen, yes that broadcast announcer turned consultant for the Detroit Lions (yuck). Of course, that’s just middle linebackers.
Why the Raiders should target Zaven Collins
You may be wondering why the Raiders should target Collins after signing Nick Kwiatkoski and Cory Littleton last offseason. Let’s get it out of the way. Kwiatkoski was signed to a three-year $21 million dollar contract with $13.75 million guaranteed. Meanwhile, Littleton was signed to a three-year $35.25 million dollar contract with $22 million guaranteed. Neither signing proved to be effective or worth the money whether it was because of Covid-19, injuries, or Paul Guenther’s system. Littleton admittedly had the worst season of his career.
Aren’t the Raiders trying to win? Weren’t they trying to acquire and draft game-changers, difference makers? If Zaven Collins is there at number 17 in the first round, do general manager Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden pull the trigger? Maybe not. In fact, they might take the easy way out (Christian Barmore) because that’s who they are, they like to be comfortable.
Does the name Devin White ring a bell?
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Top Photo: Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press