Steelers Draft: Tulsa LB Zaven Collins on Pittsburgh’s radar at pick 24

Tulsa Golden Hurricane linebacker Zaven Collins (23). Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports
Tulsa Golden Hurricane linebacker Zaven Collins (23). Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports /

Could the Steelers really be eyeing a player outside the Power 5 in the first round? Here’s why linebacker Zaven Collins is an option at pick 24.

There are three things that are certain in life: death, taxes, and the Steelers taking a Power 5-school player in the first round. While they have had their misses, Pittsburgh is a team that is praised for their ability to find talented players early in the draft (typically when picking towards the end of the first round). They have several trends that they abide by to ensure they don’t whiff with their first-round pick. One of those is taking only Power 5 school players.

If you are unfamiliar with this concept, the ‘Power 5’ schools are the SEC, Big Ten, ACC, Big 12, and the Pac-12. Typically, the highest recruits coming out of high school will declare for a school in one of these conferences, as they almost always produce the best talent for the NFL.

However, this isn’t always the case. Every once in a while, a player from outside of this ‘Power 5’ circle comes around who is worthy of a first-round selection. This year, it may just be Tulsa linebacker, Zaven Collins.

When you put on the tape, it’s hard not to come away impressed. At 6’4” and 260 pounds, Collins moves effortlessly in space and has the ability to do just about everything. The Steelers have shown a ton of interest in the top linebacker prospects this year, as they may be eyeing an athletic player to pair with Devin Bush now that Vince Williams is no longer with the team. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin reportedly met with Zaven Collins prior to his Tulsa Pro Day on April 2nd, and there certainly seems to be interest on the part of the Steelers.

Should the Steelers take a chance on Collins?

With many other big needs in the 2021 NFL Draft, a wide majority of fans are not in favor of targeting a linebacker in the first round. However, Collins has just about every tool you could dream of at the position, and it’s not hard to envision how he could slide into Pittsburgh’s defense as a day-one starter at ‘Buck’ linebacker.

At his Pro Day on Friday, Collins impressed with a 4.67 40-yard dash, a 35” vertical jump, and a 10’2” board jump. While these aren’t quite up to the level of a player like Penn State’s Micah Parsons, they are still plenty good enough to be a great inside linebacker, and his effortless movement skill back this up on tape. In fact, these numbers were remarkably similar to former Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons coming out of Florida State in the first round back in 2007. The only difference is Collins has similar movement skills and explosion at a much bigger size:

Apart from the fact that he comes from a non-Power 5 football program, Collins seems like a good bet to be a safe player with good upside in the NFL. For the Steelers, he would have a chance to give their team a bigger boost than almost anyone in this draft could, and we have seen good inside linebackers make a great impact right away.

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Pittsburgh clearly has a few needs that are bigger than inside linebacker – especially with Devin Bush set to return from an ACL tear this year. However, pairing these two players could help elevate this defense to a whole new level. Based on their obvious interest in Zaven Collins, we at least know that this is a player the Steelers will consider at pick 24 this year.