Background: Arizona Cardinals Zaven Collins speaks during a press conference at the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center in Tempe on April 11, 2023. NfL Arizona Cardinals Team Offseason Program Media Availability 70101188007 Joel Angel Juarez/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK.
Who is taking the MIKE?
No, I’m not talking about Roger Goodell in Kansas City at the podium tonight to kick off the 2023 NFL Draft.
I am talking about the Cardinals’ MIKE linebacker position now that it appears that Zaven Collins is being moved to the edge:
Zaven Collins has been hinting at such a move. Ever since Jonathan Gannon was hired as head coach, Collins has said “I will do anything I am asked to do; I will do whatever it takes to win.”
Yesterday, JG was singing Collins’ praises in being so eager and willing to take on a new role:
“That’s the type of makeup you want in your players.”— Bo Brack (@BoBrack) April 26, 2023
Arizona Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon on @ZavenCollins and his willingness do whatever is asked of him.
Collins worked out with the outside linebackers the past two days.@PHNX_Cardinals pic.twitter.com/oRBpE6ZZSv
Zaven Collins is not a complete stranger to playing the edge. While he played the vast majority of his snaps last year as the team’s MIKE linebacker, he did play 170 snaps on the edge —- and actually came up big on a few occasions, as he did, if you recall, on this pick six of Geno Smith:
Zaven Collins gets a the wild pick-six from Genopic.twitter.com/0qYsWJbbFg— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) November 6, 2022
A few things may have happened to prompt JG to move Zaven Collins to the edge:
1 —- JG and his staff may have loved what they saw on tape when Collins played the edge.
2 —- JG believes in asking the players which role they feel most comfortable and confident taking, and Zaven Collins may have expressed his desire to play more on the edge.
3 —- Perhaps Zaven Collins (6-4, 260, Tulsa, 4.67) does not fit JG’s profile of the prototypical MIKE in his defense. Last season, JG turned T.J. Edwards (6-1, 242, Wisconsin, 4.77) into a star at MIKE. Here are Edwards’ and Collins’ 2022 grade comparisons (with the caveat that Edwards had a much stronger line in front of him):
- Overall: Edwards: 84.8; Collins: 59.8
- Run Defense: Edwards: 83.4; Collins: 45.2
- Tackling: Edwards: 69.4; Collins: 47,1
- Pass Rush: Edwards: 81.0; Collins:65.5
- Coverage: 79.7: Collins: 70.1
Note: Collins’ two highest grades were in pass rush and coverage —- areas of Collins’ game which could carry over well with a switch to OLB.
The questions are:
1 —- is JG grooming Zaven Collins (6-4, 260, 4.67) to play the SOLB role that Haasan Reddick (6-1, 240, 4.52) played last year in PHI? They are very different athletes. Could JG perform a renaissance on Dennis Gardeck (6-0, 232, 4.57) to fit the Reddick role? Is JG targeting Will Anderson Jr. (6-4, 253, Alabama, 4.60) or Nolan Smith (6-2, 237, Georgia, 4.39) in the 1st round tonight?
2 —- Or, is JG grooming Zaven Collins (6-4, 260, 4.67) to play the DE role that Brandon Graham played last year in PHI? (6-2, 265, 4.72). Graham had a great year in JG’s pass rush, posting 12 sacks,
3 —- Who takes the Josh Sweat (6-5, 265, 4.53) role? Cameron Thomas (6-5, 270, 4.78)? Myjai Sanders (6-5, 255, 4.67)? Tyree Wilson (6-6, 271, Texas Tech, 4.82) or Lukas Van Vess (6-5, 272, Iowa, 4.58)?
4 —- Who takes the MIKE? On Ourlad’s depth chart, they have Krys Barnes as the #2 MIKE. In three seasons in Green Bay, Barnes’ run defense grades were 43.2; 46.6; 49.8. His coverage grades were: 58.1; 58.0; 42.8; His tackling grades were: 67.8; 55.8; 70.6.
5 —- Therefore, one would assume that MOJO have a MIKE linebacker in mind for this weekend’s draft —- or they have a trade mapped out.
MIKE Pick Prediction:
Ivan Pace, Jr., (5-11, 235, Cincinnati, 4.62)
- All-American in 2022 as a transfer from Miami (OH).
- AAC Defensive Player of the Year 2022
- 6th in FBS with 137 tackles and 3rd in FBS with 21.5 tackles for loss.
- He also led the Bearcats in sacks with 10.
- Made 262 tackles and 34.5 tackles for loss in the pst two seasons.
The #Browns need to keep Cincinnati LB Ivan Pace Jr in the state of Ohio:— Tyler Johnson (@T_johnson_TJ) April 19, 2023
- 137 tackles
- 21.5 tackles for a loss
- 10.0 sacks
- 93.2 overall grade
- 93.3 pass rush grade
- 90.7 run defense grade
- 70.6 coverage grade
Stats according to @PFF pic.twitter.com/TOKv0sY3yI
At #98 we take Cincinnati Linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. The local product racked up 11 sacks in 3 seasons with the Bearcats and proved to be a key piece in their success. Would be our future starter in the inside. #Browns #NFLDraft— c nn r (@BernienChompz) April 18, 2023
Lance Zierlein’s Draft Profile of Ivan Pace Jr.
A rare blend of leverage, toughness and tackle obsession makes Pace’s tape a fun day of film study. He might be one of the strongest players in the 2023 NFL Draft from a pound-for-pound standpoint. He’s able to slip and club blockers out of the way with lower-body anchor and elite contact balance. He was cleared to take shots downhill by the defense, which bolstered his production, but his instincts and feel for finding routes to the ball seem to drive him. It is hard not to love Pace’s game tape, but his lack of length and speed could create inconsistencies at the next level.
- Recorded 262 tackles with 34.5 for loss over the last two seasons.
- Densely bound frame with rare lower-body power.
- Rare contact balance to withstand force and stay balanced.
- GPS to reroute and go make the play.
- Feet and athleticism to slip block seamlessly when needed.
- Surprisingly effective as a stand-up rusher over the guard.
- Balances eyes between routes and quarterback in coverage.
- Possesses the heart of a special teams lion.
- Strong but gets engulfed by wide-bodies at times.
- Unable to effectively punch and separate.
- Below average lateral quickness in tight quarters.
- Missing desired field range to capture outside run.
- Lacks length needed for consistent tackle finishing.
- Will struggle to stay connected in man coverage.
While Ivan Pace will slide some in the draft because he’s a tad smaller than the average NFL MIKEs, JG and the Eagles drafted a similar player last year in Nakobe Dean (5-11, 229, Georgia, 4.60).
The #96 Pick for Pace Seems About Right:
Will the Cardinals beat the Browns (pick #98) to the podium at pick #96?
By then, I wonder who will be taking the MIKE at the NFL Draft to announce the pick!
The Linebackers Shuffle is a Good Thing
Sure, fans are justifiably frustrated with all of the Cardinals’ high picks and shuffles at linebacker —- they Cardinals never got the prototypes right under Keim.
JG and Nick Rallis give the Cardinals a bona fide chance to get the LB prototypes correct this time.
I think Zaven Collins can thrive on the edge.
Now let’s see which player JG and NR decide to hand the MIKE to.
Do you like the thought of moving Zaven Collins to OLB?
This poll is closed
Do you think JG and NR may have their eyes on a higher rated MIKE?
I think JG is targeting this MIKE LB in the 2023 NFL Draft
This poll is closed
Trenton Simpson, Clemson
Drew Sanders, Arkansas
Jack Campbell, Iowa
Daiyan Henley, Washington St.
DeMarvion Overshown, Texas
Dorian Williams, Tulane
Dee Winters, TCU
Noah Sewell, Oregon
Ivan Pace Jr.
None of the above