The Dallas Cowboys have quite a bit of mystery surrounding the linebacker position, in 2021 and beyond. Leighton Vander Esch is locked in as a starter and with Jaylon Smith’s poor play last season there may be no guarantee that he holds onto a starting spot for the entire year. Sean Lee, a staple over the last decade, has still yet to decide whether or not he wants to retire and is currently an unrestricted free agent.
The team signed former Falcons safety Keanu Neal in free agency and he will likely come in to play a hybrid safety-linebacker role. If the team feels it wants to replace Smith with a cheaper and younger option, the 2021 class would be the one to do it as it is loaded at the linebacker position. Here’s why Tulsa product Zaven Collins could be a potential target for the team at some point in the first round.
Measurables (Pro Day Verified)
(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Height: 6-foot-5 Weight: 259 Pounds
Via Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb on Twitter). RAS or Relative Athletic Score measures a player’s athleticism in reference to other players’ combine results.
UCF (2020) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ar3CjWvPmM Oklahoma State (2020) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVjfMre8ucE USF (2020)
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An extremely high-level athlete, routinely shows excellent speed and change of direction skills. Is a heat-seeking missile as a run defender, if he has an open lane to the ball he engages with no hesitation and gets to the ball carrier in an instant. Takes good angles to the ball. Shoots gaps well at times. Shows that he can tackle well in space when he is dropping into coverage. Ideal size for a linebacker, teams will likely be comfortable playing him in many different spots because he is built so well. Can bring pressure off the edge at times, not a full-time rusher but can be another part of his game. Outstanding sideline to sideline range, is able to keep everything in front of him and can push plays to the outside. Extremely fluid in his ability to change direction or drop back into coverage. Great motor, does not give up on plays often, stays engaged. Very intelligent overall, really understands run concepts, flows to the ball very well.
Struggles mightily to take on and shed blocks, really hurts his ability to be a high-level run defender, does not position himself well to take on blocks and can get easily washed out of the play. Doesn’t seem to be able to sort through the trash very well, limits his ability to get to the ball carrier in the middle of the field. Fit in the NFL will be tricky, can do a lot of everything but there is no perfect fit, best fit at this point seems to be 4-3 SAM, with potential to be a WILL or MIKE with more development. Needs more reps in coverage, mostly dropped into shallow zones and didn’t show he could follow downfield, should be able to improve due to athleticism. Lacks bend off the edge.
(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Range: 7.5/10 Coverage Ability: 5.5/10 Run Defense: 6.5/10 Tackling: 8/10 Pass-Rush: 3/5 Instincts: 8.5/10 Pursuit/Closing Speed: 9/10 Frame: 5/5 Versatility: 4.5/5 Consistency: 4/5 Grade: 7.688/10 (1st Round Value)
(AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Collins was arguably the best defender in the country this season. Collins filled the stat sheet each and every game as the Tulsa coaching staff really understood what they had in Collins. They were not afraid to let him roam near the line of scrimmage and make play after play. Collins is a fantastic athlete for his size and plays with his hair on fire. Collins needs to improve his block-shedding ability because it will hold back his play in the NFL if he does not make strides in this area. Coverage snaps are rare for him but with his athletic profile, it is easy to bet on upside. Collins is a 1st round caliber player and will likely be drafted near this area.
Fit with the Cowboys
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The personnel fit here is definitely not a seamless one. If Collins were to be selected by the Cowboys at some point he would likely be picked to replace Jaylon Smith. There would have to be some reshuffling of the linebacker group which would likely lead to Vander Esch at MIKE while Collins took over as the WILL linebacker. Collins’ athleticism could help him shine here as the team could ask him to be the pure playmaker that he is. There should be no scenario where the Cowboys draft Collins at No. 10 overall. He is an ideal trade down target if the Cowboys ended up going that route. This makes him a long shot to become a Cowboy as it does not seems like a trade down is likely as of now. This is however the NFL draft and things can change dramatically in the coming weeks. Overall, Collins is a spectacular player and would really help boost the linebacker corp.
Other 1st-round candidate profiles (Click Pic to go)
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Oregon OL Penei Sewell
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Florida TE Kyle Pitts
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Alabama DT Christian Barmore
Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley
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South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn
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Alabama CB Patrick Surtain II
Gary Cosby Jr/The Tuscaloosa News via USA TODAY Sports