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Why Tulsa's Zaven Collins is projected as a first-round NFL Draft pick: 'It would be tough to pass him up'

Tulsa Golden Hurricane linebacker Zaven Collins (23) is projected as a first-round NFL Draft pick. [Brett Rojo/USA Today Sports]
Tulsa Golden Hurricane linebacker Zaven Collins (23) is projected as a first-round NFL Draft pick. [Brett Rojo/USA Today Sports]

Back in the fall of 2016, when he was leading Hominy to the Class A state football championships, Zaven Collins was a quarterback and a safety.

On Monday morning, Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN’s NFL Draft expert, discussed whether Collins could be a viable first-round choice as a defensive end.

Collins, you could say, has grown up.

In truth, Collins only added about 40 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame since high school, now weighing 260, but more importantly, he found his niche as an outside linebacker/defensive end during four seasons at the University of Tulsa.

As a junior at TU in the fall, Collins was given the Bronko Nagurski Award as the nation’s best defensive player after a season in which he totaled 54 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and four interceptions. Two of his interceptions were game-clinching picks, one of which he returned 96 yards for the winning touchdown in overtime against Tulane.

In Kiper’s latest mock draft, he had Collins going to Cleveland with the 26th pick in the first round, noting the Browns’ need for defensive ends and linebackers.

“It would be tough to pass him up,” Kiper said on a conference call Monday. “He can play inside, outside. He had the one big game against Oklahoma State where the majority of his sacks came. Other than that though, he was making tackles all over the field, getting into the backfield.”

Collins had six tackles with three sacks in the season-opening loss to OSU, then came up with critical big plays as Tulsa won the next six games. He had 10 tackles, including 3.5 for loss, against Central Florida. He had a pick-six against South Florida, then 15 tackles and the winning interception against Tulane.

Other mock drafts have projected Collins in the first round as well. has him going 24th to Pittsburgh and CBS Sports has him slotted 30th to Buffalo.

Kiper sees Collins’ versatility as one of his most valuable traits. Kiper believes Collins could be a traditional defensive end, outside linebacker or inside linebacker at the next level.

“He wasn’t a sack artist,” Kiper said. “But he was a rangy guy. Those kind of linebackers, you can put them on the inside. Taller linebackers with length are very difficult for a quarterback to deal with. You don’t find many of those.

“The fact that he brings a skillset that you don’t necessarily always see in a guy who can play inside or outside, that makes Zaven Collins an attractive guy.”

Scott Wright

A lifelong resident of the Oklahoma City metro area, Scott Wright has been on The Oklahoman staff since 2005, covering a little bit of everything on the state's sports scene. He has been a beat writer for football and basketball at Oklahoma and... Read more ›