Over the past six years, the Arizona Cardinals have used not one, not two but three first-round draft picks on the linebacker position. Two of the selections, Hasson Reddick and Isaiah Simmons, are no longer with the franchise. Reddick has gone on to reach Pro Bowl-status with the Philadelphia Eagles, while the jury is still out on the versatile and talented Simmons.
Don't look now, but the third of those opening-round linebacker selections is also underperforming for the Cards organization. Zaven Collins, the club's 16th-overall choice back in 2021, is being misused by Arizona's first-year defensive staff. Defensive coordinator Nick Rallis ordered a position change for the 24-year-old Collins, and the results have been less than impressive.
Through the first eight weeks of the season, Collins has registered just 17 tackles. The 6 foot 4, 260 pounder has racked up 3.5 sacks as well, but it's safe to say that both Rallis and head coach Jonathan Gannon may have been expecting more in that department. Did the Cardinals make a mistake when they decided that Collins would be best-utilized as an edge-rusher?
Arizona Cardinals may have goofed when they moved linebacker from the inside to the edge
At his current pace, Collins is on schedule to contribute 7.5 sacks to the Redbirds pass rush in 2023. While that number isn't horrible, the amount of quarterback hits (5) that the Oklahoma native has been credited with thus far is completely unacceptable. The Cards are going to need much more production than that out of a starting edge-rusher for the defensive unit to succeed.
Just last year, Collins made tremendous strides in his second campaign as an inside linebacker. The former University of Tulsa product totaled 100 tackles, six passes defensed, two sacks and a pick-six in 16 starts for the Arizona defense. Why Gannon and Rallis would elect to tinker with the success that Collins enjoyed in the middle is anybody's guess.
Cardinals fans can only hope that Collins doesn't follow in the footsteps of Reddick and Simmons. Gannon and his assistants have received high praise for the moves they've made on the defensive side of the ball. Perhaps it's time for the coaches to admit that the position change they orchestrated for Collins may have been a colossal miscalculation.
(Statistics provided by Pro Football Reference)