The eternal debate rages: Should a team draft for positions of need or take the best player available? The Green Bay Packers certainly didn’t draft for need with their first-round selection last year, and this year they have plenty of spots on the roster to patch up — cornerback, interior line on both ends, a legitimate No. 2 wide receiver. However, if they’re inclined toward the best-player strategy with their No. 29 first-round pick, Zaven Collins should be their guy.
Collins is a tremendous playmaking inside linebacker out of Tulsa with great size and range. He is predicted to go anywhere from the late 20s in the first round to the early in the second. Right in the middle of all that, of course, are the Green Bay Packers at No. 29.
There’s no shying away from the fact that inside linebacker is a spot the Packers could beef up. Last year they leaned heavily on two second-year linebackers in Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin. Barnes was undrafted out of UCLA and burst onto the scene for Green Bay last year, providing a reliable presence. Martin was a fifth-round pick out of Minnesota in 2020 who struggled to stay healthy for large chunks of the season. He showed flashes on the field, but injuries hindered his consistency.
With the uncertainty at inside linebacker, taking Zaven Collins wouldn’t be a crazy move like selecting a quarterback. (Man, can you imagine if they did that with Aaron Rodgers?) The point is that the deficiencies at cornerback, offensive line, defensive line, and wide receiver are more urgent.
Collins could be the wild card, though. During his three seasons at Tulsa, he improved significantly every year. He possesses an eye-popping mix of great size and freakish athleticism. He’s also a game-changer at the position. Last year he intercepted four passes, returning two of them for touchdowns. He capped off his 2020 season by being named a unanimous All-American and winning the Bronko Nagurski Award, given to the nation’s best defensive player. The dude has star written all over him.
The Packers have lacked a consistent, playmaking inside linebacker for years now. Collins is more of a solid, ready-to-go prospect than some of the project players Green Bay may be leaning towards in the draft, given their lack of movement in free agency. They need some guys to plug in right away if they are to truly attack this championship window.
Even so, it’s easy to stray from draft plans once the show is underway. It’s hard to imagine many pundits had Green Bay going quarterback in Round 1 last year, but that’s what they did.
Like many other years, the first few picks in the draft feel predetermined. After that is chaos, it’s a foregone conclusion Trevor Lawrence will go No. 1 to the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Zach Wilson will go No. 2 to the New York Jets. There’s a growing suspicion the San Francisco 49ers will select Mac Jones with the No. 3 pick. If not, they will almost certainly take another quarterback. But what the rest of the teams do after that is unknown. The same goes for the Packers in the sense that they will almost assuredly draft an offensive lineman and a cornerback at some point in the draft. They might even double up at the positions. If Collins is available at No. 29 for Green Bay, they have no reason not to flirt with the idea of taking him.
The Packers have the flexibility to do this because they have superstars at the positions they need to bulk up at. They re-signed Kevin King as a temporary fix at cornerback, but they also have one of the best players at that position in Jaire Alexander. They have Davante Adams at wide receiver, arguably the best pass-catcher in the NFL. The same can be said for Kenny Clark on the defensive line. In all three cases, they just need a player to pair with Alexander, Adams, and Clark. It’s what makes this Packers draft a beautiful mystery.
What Green Bay will do depends a lot on what happens in front of them. However, if Collins is available when they are on the board, don’t be surprised if they push back some of the other positions of need.