Take a look at any of the numerous mock drafts floating around the Internet and one name repeatedly stands out when you come to the Cleveland Browns at No. 26.
Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins.
It has always been a bit odd to see a linebacker mocked to the Browns given that general manager Andrew Berry views the position as something akin to a necessary evil, and that defensive coordinator Joe Woods prefers to squeeze as many defensive backs as possible onto the field.
But someone has to play the position when the opportunity arises, and it is possible that someone could be Collins.
The 6-foot-4 and 260-pound Collins played three seasons at Tulsa, finishing with 236 tackles, 7.5 sacks and five interceptions. He saved his best season for last, as he pocketed the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award and Lombardi Award, while also being a consensus All-American, in 2020 after posting 53 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, four interceptions and a forced fumble.
On the eve of Friday’s Pro Day, Collins said he has been in contact with the Browns and likes what he sees, according to The Beacon Journal’s Nate Ulrich:
“I love the organization. I love the program. I love all the coaches there, Wherever I’m going to go, I’m going to fit in because I know I will. I’ve done it every time in my life. I like to be around people, enjoy people, make people’s day better, and it seems like [the Browns] have that going in their program already. They’ve completely changed the culture the last couple years, and it seems like a great program.”
Collins is a game-impacting defender and one of the more understated prospects in this year’s draft. He’s not the small run-and-chase linebacker teams prefer these days. Rather, he’s a throwback of sorts, and possesses the size as well as speed to be a pass rusher as well as play in coverage. Collins is a true three-down defender who should quickly break into a starting lineup and comes with outstanding scheme versatility.
Going to a scheme that utilizes his versatility is key. Not only is Collins scheme-diverse, but he’s also versatile within his role. He can provide value against the pass, against the run, and along the edge. That kind of player can be hard to come by.
Collins also happens to be very good in coverage, something that should definitely be of interest to Woods after watching tight ends eat up the Browns defense last season.
Highest coverage grade by a LB since 2014:— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) March 15, 2021
1. Zaven Collins, Tulsa ('20) - 93.7
2. Eric Kendricks, UCLA ('14) - 92.1 pic.twitter.com/MLd0Wu4SNL
While it still seems likely that Berry will focus on defensive end or cornerback when the Browns are on the clock in the first round, if he likes what he sees and hears from Collins in the weeks leading up to the draft, Berry just might prove those mock draft experts right in the end.