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NFL Draft

Did Cardinals Name Zaven Collins As Starter Too Soon?

  • The Draft Network
  • May 28, 2021
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Playing in the NFL is a challenge in and of itself. However, starting in the NFL as a rookie can be unforgiving. Many new rookies have a challenging time adjusting to their new life of wealth and free time. However, certain positions are more challenging for rookies than others on the field, particularly free safety, MIKE linebacker, center, and quarterback.

The requirements for those positions are often too much for a rookie to handle from Day 1. They often are responsible for making the call, potentially aligning or shifting a teammate, and then expecting to execute their own assignment on every given play. Coaches usually try to simplify things for rookies in an effort to allow them the freedom to just go play without having to think too much. 

Recently, Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim made an announcement regarding the team’s first-round draft pick Zaven Collins. Keim announced that Collins would be a starter at MIKE linebacker and subsequently allowed Jordan Hicks, their most recent starter, to seek a trade. This can be problematic for a couple of reasons.

First, you always want to create an atmosphere of competition at every position. The NFL is hard and anointing someone a starter without giving the team the impression they earned it is one of the fastest ways to lose the support of the men who go out and fight every week. Secondly, it gives the impression that coaching decisions are being made by upper management and not the coaches themselves. 

From the moment Keim announced Kliff Kingsbury as his head coach, it was obvious that Keim had his hand in these types of decisions. Kingsbury only had the opportunity to hire a few coaches, while the rest were “arranged marriages” orchestrated by the general manager. Keim hand-picked Vance Joseph for their familiarity with each other and his familiarity with the 3-4 defensive scheme that the Cardinals had been using. In most successful organizations, the coaches make the coaching decisions, while the player personnel staff makes the scouting decisions.  

Let me say that I really like Collins and think he’s got the potential to be a really good NFL player. He’s smart, physically gifted, and seems to be wired the right way. However, like any player, you’d like to set him up to have success. What happens in the event he doesn’t play well early? Benching him could shake his confidence, which is why you typically try to bring the rookies along slowly, allowing them to grow and learn the scheme. That way, when you do put them on the field, they are comfortable enough in their particular role to think less and just play. This allows them to play faster and ultimately the game slows down for them. 

However, if Collins goes out from Day 1 and proves that he can make the calls and adjustments while still playing at a high level then all is well. However, this will be a tall task for any rookie, even one as talented as Collins.

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