Updated: Apr 29
(Photo by Collegiate Images via Getty Images)
Najee Harris has been linked to the Steelers at 24th overall all offseason, and the speculation has built up even more within the last few weeks on Harris landing in Pittsburgh. It's no secret that the Steelers need to fix their 32nd ranked rushing offense and drafting a feature running back like Harris would be a good place to start. In addition, it appears that Tulsa inside linebacker Zaven Collins is being talked about possibly being the Steelers selection in the first round, as well.
According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, a source with knowledge of the dynamics driving the 2021 draft tells PFT that the Steelers are expected to take Harris or Collins if either is available at 24th overall. Florio also mentioned that the Cardinals are expected to take Collins at No. 16 if cornerbacks Patrick Surtain II and Jaycee Horn and receiver Jaylen Waddle are gone.
The Steelers met with a lot of inside linebackers during the pre-draft process and Collins would certainly be a fit in the Steelers defense. Collins paired with Devin Bush would be a lethal duo, as both possess incredible athleticism. A lot of teams in the draft will covet Collins' measurables, versatility and football IQ. His size and speed are what stand out the most. At 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, Collins ran a 4.56 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day. His speed matches his on-field play also, as he plays sideline-to-sideline and is always around the ball.
The Steelers love drafting linebackers in the first round, they've done so five times in the last seven drafts that they've had a first-round pick, so it wouldn't be surprising to see the Steelers get a freaky athletic talent like Collins to a pair with Bush.
Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert spoke about the inside linebacker position at their pre-draft press conference on Monday and how much the position has changed over the years.
"You know, in terms of the physical makeup of the linebacker position, I think it's been widespread in college ball prior to evolving and becoming more widespread in our game," Tomlin said. "I believe it's probably less of an issue now, to be quite honest with you. I think it was a significant discussion when we drafted Ryan Shazier, and he was kind of an outlier or precursor to what's a common discussion now, a guy capable of running with anyone and covering and playing in all circumstances."
Colbert had similar remarks as Tomlin.
"Yeah, I agree with what Coach said," Colbert said. "The game has changed. It's more horizontal, and Ryan was ahead of the curve when we took him. You've got to keep pace with what's going on and what we have to defend in this league. But it's not different from what's going on at the college level. It used to be, in the old days, 'Who could take on that fullback?' Well, there are no fullbacks now, for the most part. 'Who could take on a guard?' Well, most of the time, they're running past that guard instead of taking them on. So we value that."
As of right now, the Steelers have Robert Spillane and Vince Williams as their options at inside linebacker opposite of Bush. They're similar players, as they're more of run-stopping linebackers than known for their coverage abilities. This will probably be Williams' last year and while Spillane was solid last season, he can be a liability at times. Collins would be a huge upgrade at the position, and as I mentioned, Collins lined up next to Bush would make for a heck of a duo. Depending on how the draft goes, it wouldn't be surprising at all if Collins is the Steelers pick at No. 24.