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Arizona Cardinals fans expected to see a lot of linebacker Zaven Collins, the team’s first-round pick in 2021. After all, general manager Steve Keim declared him the Week 1 starter immediately after drafting him and talking to defensive coordinator Vance Joseph on the phone.
However, things did not go as planned.
Collins was healthy most of the season but he played the least among all the 2021 first-round rookies who did not suffer season-ending injuries.
Former Cardinals team reporter Kyle Odegard noted the playing time percentages.
Defensive snap percentage for the first-rounders who didn’t suffer season-ending injuries:
P. Surtain: 89.1%
E. Stokes: 86.1%
M. Parsons: 83.9%
O. Oweh: 60.8%
G. Newsome: 59.8%
K. Paye: 57.5%
J. Phillips: 53.4%
J. Davis: 52.2%
G. Rousseau: 49.1%
J. Tryon: 46.3%
Z. Collins: 20.6%
— Kyle Odegard (@Kyle_Odegard) January 14, 2022
Collins played in only 20.6% of the Cardinals’ defensive snaps. His playing time decreased as the season progressed, which is opposite what normally would happen with a rookie that teams want to see play.
Collins had a fairly large role early in the season. He hurt his shoulder and lost some practice reps, leading to Tanner Vallejo taking over Collins’ role.
With how Vallejo was playing, Joseph did not want to replace him with Collins.
Collins later got some playing time as an edge defender at outside linebacker.
No one seems to be disappointed in his progress this season. The key will be next season. Will the Cardinals move on from Jordan Hicks? Will Collins be able to increase his role?
Right now, it isn’t that important because the Cardinals have a veteran-laden team they believe can make it to the Super Bowl. They don’t feel like they can afford themselves the patience with rookie mistakes.
But Collins will likely see a small role on defense against the Los Angeles Rams in the Cardinals’ first-round playoff game on Monday night.
It won’t be enough for many fans to be happy about, but perhaps it will have been better for the team’s 2021 success to bring him along more slowly than originally anticipated.