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Zaven Collins’ ceiling could be No. 16

Chris Simms and Mike Florio pick the biggest draft needs for each NFC West team ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Getting a sense on the first 10 or so players to go in the 2021 draft isn’t more difficult than a normal year. After that, the various factors that have complicated scouting this season make it harder than usual to figure out how things will fall.

Here’s a nugget that has made its way our way as the draft approaches: Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins could go as high as No. 16, to Arizona.

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.

Collins, a unanimous All-American and winner of the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player in college football), Chuck Bednarik Award (same), and the Lombardi Award (best college player regardless of position, based on performance, leadership, character, and resiliency), is six feet, four inches and 260 pounds.

Linebackers with his size and skills are rare, because players with his measurables usually end up elsewhere.

“I really don’t have a comp that’s kind of similar to me, because most linebackers like me have disappeared,” Collins has said. “People my size are usually on the edge rushing.”

Given his size and the fact that he played quarterback in high school, he’s drawing comparisons to Brian Urlacher, the ninth player taken in the 2000 draft and the only member of that draft class currently in the Hall of Fame. (Another one will get there, if he ever stops playing.)

Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury is rooting for five quarterbacks to go in the first five selections, because that will push players the Cardinals would prefer farther down the board. Every team in round one that doesn’t need a quarterback benefits from a run on quarterback, with as many as five going in the top 10, since it makes the teams that don’t want or need a quarterback sit higher as a practical matter than they officially do.