Draft Digest: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa

Small-town player became nation’s best defender in 2020

Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins

Packers.com consulted more than a dozen mock drafts from reputable national outlets and compiled a list of players most frequently mocked as draft selections in the bottom third of the first round (picks 20-32).

Between now and draft day, when the Packers are slated to select at No. 29 overall, those players will be profiled with thumbnail sketches in a new series entitled "Draft Digest."

Today's player is …

Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa

Height/Weight: 6-5, 259

Key stats: In eight games in 2020, recorded four sacks among 7½ tackles for loss, plus four interceptions (two returned for TDs), two forced fumbles and one recovery.

College honors: A consensus All-America selection and American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year, won the Nagurski Trophy and Bednarik Award as the best defensive player in the country.

Background: A two-way star in high school in Oklahoma who played quarterback on offense, the lightly recruited Collins went to college just an hour from his small hometown of Hominy and became the top defensive player in the country in 2020. His breakout season was his third as a starter and showcased his all-around skills stopping the run, rushing the passer and defending in coverage. He went from a relative unknown to a potential first-round draft pick in a hurry, possessing the size and athletic traits (4.65 in the 40 and 35-inch vertical at pro day) that erase doubts his accomplishments at a non-Power 5 school can carry over to the NFL. He may not have a defined position yet at the next level – he could be an edge rusher or an off-the-ball linebacker – but that only makes him more attractive because it's believed he could make an impact at either.

Potential fit with Packers: If Green Bay is interested in adding a proverbial chess piece to new defensive coordinator Joe Barry's unit, Collins would be an interesting pick. He could play off the line of scrimmage in the box, or he could be aligned on the edge, and he could rush the passer or drop into coverage from either spot. Collins was a high-impact player in every area defensively for Tulsa, and as a small-town player who's never received much attention until now, he plays like he's always out to prove something. He's even blocked kicks on special teams. Even it might take a while to figure out his best role, there's a lot to like, and if he does manage to remain available through the first round, there's no way he'll be around long in the second.

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