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Ron Rivera hit a proverbial home run with his first draft pick as the head coach of the Washington Football Team.
Chase Young, selected second overall, exceeded expectations by making the Pro Bowl, earning Defensive Player of the Month in December and becoming the franchise's first Defensive Rookie of the Year. His game-changing plays, combined with his "crazy unusual" leadership, immediately made him one of the faces of a team on the rise.
Rivera's second swing will be with the No. 19 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and he'll have a pair of new executives -- general manager Martin Mayhew and executive vice president of football/player personnel Marty Hurney -- helping him make that decision. They'll aim to add another valuable piece to help build a consistent winner.
In anticipation for that selection, which will be made April 29, Washingtonfootball.com will highlight one mock draft from a notable draft expert each week and delve into how that player would fit with Washington. Here are the analysts who have been highlighted over the past month:
Next up is NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein:
Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa
Washington addressed several of its key needs during the first wave of free agency, including linebacker when it signed six-year pro David Mayo. Still, the team could use a young, talented linebacker to shore up one of the few areas of improvement on defense, and Zierlein sees Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins as a possible answer.
"Collins is a huge, active linebacker with excellent coverage instincts," Zierlein wrote, "and an ability to become a tackle stacker at outside linebacker in Ron Rivera's defense."
Collins, a three-year starter from Hominy, Oklahoma, actually played quarterback, linebacker and safety during his high school years. In addition to 91 tackles, three interceptions and a fumble recovery during his senior year, he also put up 3,120 total yards of offense and accounted for 50 touchdowns while leading his team to a Class A state title with a 14-0 record. He was a two-star prospect, according to Rivals, and received interest from Oklahoma State and Central Oklahoma before signing with Tulsa in January of 2017.
Collins redshirted his freshman season, but he was an instant success in his first year by starting the final 10 games of the season. It was plain to see that Collins was one of the stars on the Hurricanes' defense; he was second on the team in total tackles (85) and first in tackles for a loss (9.5). From that point on, Collins was a mainstay among Tulsa's linebacker corps.
"Unbelievable kid, unbelievable teammate, great leader," Tulsa head coach Philip Montgomery said after Tulsa's 30-24 double-overtime win against Tulane in 2020. "Why is that guy not in the running for the Heisman? Tell me someone that has affected more games than that guy. I mean, if we want to talk about the best football players in college football, in my opinion, he's there."
Name any defensive award a player can receive in college football, and there is a good chance Collins either won it or was a runner-up for the way he played in 2020. Fifty-four tackles -- 7.5 for a loss -- four sacks, four interceptions, two forced fumbles and two touchdowns during his redshirt junior year earned him the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award for being the best defensive player in the country; he also was the 2020 Lombardi Award recipient and a runner-up for the Butkus Award, which is given to the best linebacker in college football. In addition to be named a first-team All-American by a slew of national publications, he was also the CFB on FOX Defensive Player of the Year.
Collins has a prospect grade of 6.39, meaning he falls into the category of "will be a starter within his] first two seasons," on **[his NFL.com draft profile.** Collins' athleticism and size reminds Zierlein of Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who was taken in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
"Collins is a team-oriented defender willing to plug gaps and spill the action wide for teammates to run down," Zierlein wrote. "He's rangy with the burst and length to track and capture his prey from the back side or out on the perimeter."
Collins is currently ranked as the No. 4 linebacker and No. 27 player regardless of position in this year's draft class, according to The Draft Network. He is taller and bigger than the other three prospects ahead of him, and while he did not play against the same quality of opponents as Penn State's Micah Parsons, Notre Dame's Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah or Ohio State's Baron Browning, he put up similar numbers and was better against the pass, with Pro Football Focus giving him a cover grade of 93.7 -- the highest for a linebacker since 2014. Washington and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio would have little trouble putting that skill to good use.
"He's aware and dangerous in spot drops with the read and reaction to jump the passing lane," Zierlein wrote. "Collins could use more aggression in his play demeanor, but his combination of talent and traits should make him a productive pro starter."