Every draft there seems to be that one prospect that stands out above the rest, the one that checks all the boxes and makes the perfect fit, this year for the Buffalo Bills that prospect is none other than LB Zaven Collins. While he may not have the notoriety of Penn State’s Micah Parsons or have been showcased on prime time like Notre Dame’s Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was this past season, but Collins is every bit as talented and, in some respects, he might even be more talented. Though 2020 was a season unlike any other, with player opt outs, empty stadiums and shortened schedules it did not prevent Collins from putting on a stellar performance. In just 8 games he racked up 54 tackles, 7.5 for a loss, 4 sacks and 4 interceptions, 2 of which he brought all the way back to the house for touchdowns.
Collins’ season was so impressive he went on to take home some hardware to prove it, receiving the coveted Nagurski Award, which is handed out annually to the nation’s best defensive player. After watching all his 2020 reps there is no doubt in my mind that Collins has all the tools necessary to be an excellent 3-down backer at the next level. He has outstanding size for the position, standing 6 foot 4 and weighing 260lbs he is well suited to anchor the edge versus the run, he has the strength and ample length to stack and shed blocks stopping plays inside the box. But what is most impressive about him is his rare breed of athleticism. He is by no means a clunky, lumbering linebacker who just throws around his weight, he is loose hipped and extremely light footed. When you put on his film and watch the way he glides around the field, the manor in which he can stop and redirect, how he explodes through traffic and tracks down backs it is hard to believe he is tipping the scales at 260lbs.
There is no denying that the Bills defense lacks size and, in some facets, the athleticism to match up with some of the premier teams in the NFL, most notably the Kansas City Chiefs. In their AFC Championship showdown, the Bills were unsuccessful generating any meaningful pressure on Mahomes, they struggled to be physical at the point of attack and they failed to limit TE Travis Kelce, or at the least to get their hands-on him and attempt to knock him off of his route as he torched them for 118 yards off 13 catches and 2 scores much like their earlier meeting in October when he beat them for another pair of TDs.
If Coach McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane genuinely want to rebrand this defense and create a more formidable unit then Zaven Collins is a must have in this year’s draft, especially when considering the likely departure of LB Matt Milano.
Over his short career in Buffalo, Milano has provided the Bills with remarkable versatility, most notably in the passing game. In his four seasons he has become one of the better coverage linebackers in the NFL and at a time when offenses are airing it out and tight ends are so prevalent Milano’s skill set is at a premium. Now while he was an asset versus the pass Milano was not without his deficiencies versus the run. His inconsistencies when it comes to shutting down the run have been well documented especially at the point of attack where he tends to dip his head and miss tackles, he is in position to make. All and all though Milano is a particularly good player who is set to test his value on the market and even when most teams are tight on cap space it is almost certain someone is going to step up and pay him a lot of money for his services. That someone will most likely not be Brandon Beane whose comments on the situation left most believing he will not pursue him as fervently as others will. The impending exit of Milano will undoubtedly leave a huge void in our defense that should not simply be patched up with journeymen or middling players. Beane must address this position with the intent to insert an impact player, que Zaven Collins.