New England Patriots

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If the Patriots want to upgrade at the linebacker position, and/or start preparing for life after Dont’a Hightower, this is a good year to do so. They seem to be at least entertaining the possibility, and are speaking with one of the top LB prospects in the upcoming draft.

According to The Draft Network’s Justin Melo, the Patriots either have met or are planning to meet with Tulsa’s Zaven Collins, a projected first round pick. They’re not alone – Melo names eight other teams that either have met or are scheduled to meet with Collins virtually.

Collins being in high demand isn’t much of a surprise. There’s not a role in a defense on any of the 32 teams he doesn’t project into. The guy can do everything. Rushing the passer, dropping into coverage, playing downhill against the run, it’s all in his toolbox. Sometimes even talented players fall due to concerns about ‘scheme fit’ from certain teams – that shouldn’t be the case with Collins.

That versatility showed up on the field at Tulsa, where Collins started all three years on campus. In eight games this past season, the redshirt junior recorded 54 tackles, 7.5 for a loss, and four sacks while forcing two fumbles and recovering one. Against the pass, he had four interceptions – two of which he returned for touchdowns – and two PBUs.

With that performance, Collins was named AAC Defensive Player of the Year, a unanimous All-American, and was awarded both the Nagurski and Bednarik trophies, which are given to best defensive player in college football, as voted on by the media and coaches, respectively.

All that being said, what leaves him as the second linebacker on many draft boards? First off, Micah Parsons (the consensus top linebacker in this year’s draft) is also very good. On top of that, he’s more polished, having played at Penn State and in the Big 10.

There’s a lot for the Patriots to like in Collins, notably his career trajectory. In recent years, the team has targeted players who changed position at or in college (Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski, Rashod Berry), and Collins fits that bill. The Hominy, Oklahoma product was a four-year two-way starter in high school, as a dual-threat quarterback on the offensive side of the ball (with a 41-12 career record) and a hybrid linebacker/safety on the defensive side of the ball.

Despite that impressive career, Tulsa was the only Division-I school to offer Collins a scholarship. After redshirting as a true freshman in 2017, he earned a starting role just two games into the 2018 season, and missed just a single game over three seasons.

Collins is currently projected to be a late first-round pick, meaning the Patriots would need to ‘reach’ to pick him at 15. However, that doesn’t mean it should be ruled out. In 2008, Jerod Mayo was viewed as a borderline first round pick before the Patriots selected him 10th overall. If Collins becomes the kind of impactful player Mayo was, 15 will hardly be a reach at all.

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Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.