Zaven Collins could be labeled another first-round bust if Nick Vigil comes away with the Arizona Cardinals starting ILB job.
In retrospect, what the Arizona Cardinals did to first-round draft pick Zaven Collins just moments after selecting him in April of 2021 was utterly unfair.
When Cards head coach Kliff Kingsbury informed Collins that “there ain’t no redshirting,” he basically placed a tremendous amount of pressure on the inside linebacker’s shoulders. The former University of Tulsa star was named the starter over veteran Jordan Hicks, despite Collins having never played a single down of NFL football.
Fortunately for Collins, Hicks is no longer with the Cardinals. However, another experienced defender has been added to the roster, and there’s a strong possibility that Collins could ultimately be beaten out for the starting job by this individual as well.
Nick Vigil, a former third-round draft choice of the Cincinnati Bengals back in 2016, inked a one-year contract with Arizona back in March. Collins has once again been named the squad’s starter, but the 28-year-old Vigil has arrived to provide a stiff challenge for the second-year pro.
Arizona Cardinals could be impressed by Nick Vigil’s ability to call the defensive signals.
One strike against Collins is his apparent inability to be the “quarterback” of the Cards defense. Currently, the playcalling assignment has been given to Jalen Thompson, the team’s talented young safety who has progressed incredibly quickly for coordinator Vance Joseph’s unit.
It’s much more natural, however, for a linebacker to assume that responsibility, which could work in Vigil’s favor. Just last season, the former Utah State University product performed that duty for the Minnesota Vikings when defensive captain Anthony Barr was sidelined with an injury.
On paper, Vigil appears to be a much better option than Collins at the position. In 85 professional contests (51 starts), the 6 foot 2, 235-pound Vigil has racked up 430 tackles, five sacks, three interceptions, and 16 passes defensed in stints with the Bengals, Los Angeles Chargers, and Vikings.
On the other hand, Collins was a huge disappointment as a rookie last fall. The 6-foot 4, 260-pounder registered just 25 tackles and three pass breakups in 17 appearances (six starts) for the Cardinals in ’21.
Isaiah Simmons, Arizona’s top pick back in 2020, will assume the other starting slot at inside linebacker in the Redbirds’ 3-4 scheme. The 24-year-old Simmons is expected to take a huge step forward in 2022 and become the superstar performer that the organization thought it was getting when he entered the league two years ago.
You can be sure that Cards general manager Steve Keim wants Collins to come out on top in his competition with Vigil. The executive is no stranger to first-round draft busts (Jonathan Cooper, Robert Nkemdiche, Josh Rosen), and having to lump Collins in with that group would be a nightmare for Keim.
Vigil would love nothing more than to outplay Collins during training camp and keep the youngster on the sideline for another campaign. One thing’s for sure, the battle between the pair over the next few weeks will be fascinating to watch.