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Report: Broncos met virtually with Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins

The Broncos are showing interest in the projected first-round linebacker.

NCAA Football: Southern Methodist at Tulsa Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

According to reports, the Denver Broncos are among the teams that have or will in the future meet virtually with Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins. He’s a talented linebacker prospect who can do it all and is currently projected to be a first-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Collins is a 6-4, 260-pound linebacker who played his college ball at Tulsa. While there, Collins was asked to stop the run, rush the passer, and drop into coverage. Something he did very well and this versatility should intrigue all interested teams during the draft process.

He played a total of three seasons at Tulsa and totaled 236 total tackles, 25 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, 5 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, 8 pass deflections, and 2 defensive touchdowns.

The Draft Network ranks Collins as their 24th best overall prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft and has him ranked as their third-best off-the-ball linebacker prospect.

After a high school career in which Zaven Collins was a four-year starter at quarterback and linebacker/safety, Tulsa was the only Division I program to offer him a scholarship. He ended his college career by claiming the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which is awarded to the nation’s best defensive player. Collins offers an exciting blend of size, length, power, football intelligence, and versatility that makes him a dynamic prospect for the NFL. Whether it’s defending the run, dropping into coverage, or rushing the passer, Collins has the requisite skill set required to execute and was arguably the most dynamic defensive playmaker in college football for the 2020 season. He demonstrated notable growth in 2020, becoming a complete defender and making high-impact, clutch plays seemingly every week. The Belichick disciples and teams that deploy that style of defense are likely salivating over Collins’ skill set and he projects as an impact defender in the NFL that can make plays in a variety of ways.

Meanwhile. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah also ranks Collins as his 24th best prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft. Like everyone else, Jeremiah notes Collins unique blend of size, speed, and versatility as a big reason why teams are intrigued by him.

Collins is an enormous off-ball linebacker. He played outside in Tulsa’s 3-3-5 alignment. He has the length and bulk to take on guards and free himself for tackles against the run. He builds speed laterally, displaying tremendous range. He has average short-area quickness, but he is still a dependable tackler in space. He is outstanding in pass coverage, using his instincts to clog throwing lanes. He is more than capable of covering tight ends all over the field. He rushed off the edge on occasion and is good with his hands to defeat tight ends and running backs. You can get a sense of his athleticism if you watch his 96-yard pick-six to defeat Tulane in overtime. Overall, Collins is a unique player because of his size/speed combination and I believe he’ll make an immediate impact at the next level.

Collins is an interesting prospect for sure. At 6-4 and pushing 260 pounds, you wouldn’t expect him to have the type of range and athleticism that he shows and it’s a big reason why he’s expected to go in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Jeremiah notes his ability to cover tight ends which should interest the Broncos since they face Kelce and Waller at least four times a year.

I don’t like making comparison’s but Zaven Collins reminds me a lot of Jamie Collins when he was coming out. A big linebacker with plus athleticism, coverage ability, pass-rush ability, and flourished in Bill Belichick’s defense.

It’s clear why a defensive-minded coach like Vic Fangio would have some level of interest in Collins. He asks a lot of his linebackers and someone like Collins could potentially fill that role.

Now, the Broncos do have Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson who both played well this past season, but neither has the skill-set that Collins possesses. Also, both Johnson and Jewell will be unrestricted free agents next season while Johnson is a restricted free agent this offseason. With Jewell’s limited skill-set and Johnson turning 30 years old this year, neither is a long-term answer at the position so a player like Collins could be viewed as a potential replacement for one of those players.

Selecting Collins at 9th overall is a bit early and selecting an off-the-ball linebacker that early, in general, is often poor value. However, if a trade back happens, I could see Collins being among the players targeted by the Broncos in that scenario.