TEMPE, Ariz. - The Arizona Cardinals added a linebacker in the first round of the NFL draft for a second straight season, grabbing Tulsa’s Zaven Collins with the No. 16 overall pick on the night of April 29.
The Nagruski and Bednarik Award winner wasn’t even sure he’d be drafted heading into the 2020 season, but he put up big numbers with 53 tackles, 11 1/2 tackles for a loss, four sacks, four interceptions, two pass breakups and a blocked kick in eight starts. He was a first-team AP All-American and also the AAC Player of the Year.
It continues a remarkable rise for Collins, who didn’t receive much Division I interest from college coaches while playing in high school in the small town of Hominy, Oklahoma. But he blossomed into a star down the road at Tulsa and at 6-foot-5 and 259 pounds brings ample size and athleticism to the position.
He returned two of his interceptions for touchdowns last year, including a 96-yarder in overtime to beat Tulane.
Arizona’s biggest need heading into the draft appeared to be in the secondary, particularly at cornerback. Longtime Cardinals star Patrick Peterson signed with the Minnesota Vikings in the offseason, leaving a sizable hole at the position.
But the draft’s elite cornerbacks were gone early when Jaycee Horn went to the Panthers at No. 8 and Patrick Surtain went to the Broncos one selection later. So the Cardinals went with another linebacker and Collins will join fellow linebacker Isaiah Simmons, whom the Cardinals selected with the No. 8 overall pick out of Clemson last year.
The pressure is on GM Steve Keim to build a playoff-caliber roster around young quarterback Kyler Murray, who is entering the third year of his affordable four-year rookie contract. Arizona looked like it might break its playoff drought last season but lost five of its last seven games to finish at 8-8 and miss the postseason.
The Cardinals have already had a busy offseason, adding several big-name veterans in free agency, including three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. They also signed seven-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green, cornerback Malcolm Butler and kicker Matt Prater and traded for three-time Pro Bowl center Rodney Hudson.
Arizona will have the No. 49 overall pick in the second round Friday. They dealt their third-round pick to the Raiders in the deal that brought Hudson to the desert. Unless the team makes a trade, the Cardinals won’t make another selection until Saturday with the 160th pick in the fifth round.
Get breaking news alerts in the FREE FOX 10 News app. Download for Apple iOS or Android.