Following the retirement by Sean Lee earlier this week after an 11-year NFL career, the linebacker position has become a bigger need for the Dallas Cowboys heading into the 2021 NFL Draft this Thursday.
Although the presence of both Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith on the linebacker depth chart likely means other positions like cornerback, defensive tackle, offensive lineman, safety, and perhaps even edge rusher could be viewed as more pressing needs.
Yet, Dallas proved just last season they are unafraid to take a more talented player over positional need when they drafted wide receiver CeeDee Lamb 17th overall in 2020. Perhaps that door swings both ways. What if the Cowboys are enamored by a player so much that they are willing to reach for them at No. 10?
Dallas certainly did that back in the 2013 draft, trading back in the first round with the San Francisco 49ers and reaching with the 31st overall pick for future All-Pro center Travis Frederick despite having a second-round grade on him (although he was the 22nd player ranked on their board).
The Cowboys did it again in 2017, using the 28th overall selection on Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton despite considering him a project with a second-round grade.
Yet, in both of these examples, we’re not talking about a top-ten selection. Yet, Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins is apparently climbing up draft boards and might not be considered that much of a reach for Dallas at No. 10.
Here’s what Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio wrote on Tuesday about Collins’ ceiling possibly being as high as the No. 16 overall pick, which is owned by the Arizona Cardinals.
"“As one source with knowledge of the dynamics explained it to PFT, Collins becomes an attractive option to the Cardinals with the last pick of the first half of the round if cornerback Patrick Surtain II, cornerback Jaycee Horn, and receiver Jaylen Waddle already have been taken.”"
If Collins is a consideration at No. 16, it isn’t a stretch that he might be a consideration for the Cowboys at No. 10. Although the likelihood of a higher-rated prospect like the aforementioned cornerbacks in South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn or Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II being available for the Cowboys to choose from in the top ten seems very high.
At 6-foot-4, 260-pounds, Collins is described by NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah as being an enormous off-ball linebacker that’s outstanding in pass coverage and more than capable of covering tight ends all over the field.
As a junior in 2020, Collins recorded a career-high four interceptions in just eight games along with 54 total tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, and two defensive touchdowns. One of those scores was an insane 96-yard game-winning pick six.
If Zaven Collins is viewed as purely a strongside linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys, a top-ten selection wouldn’t make much sense. Especially if the Cowboys have other worthy candidates rated higher on their board. But if new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn also believes the young linebacker could be a dynamic pass rusher in his scheme, that might be enough to make him at least a consideration at No. 10 … and certainly in a trade-back scenario.