Many fantasy gamers are quick to overlook key diagnoses of players who underperformed during the previous season. More experienced fantasy gamers are aware that the fantasy outlook of players can change from one season to the next. There are a few things that I look for when trying to identify breakout fantasy players. Youth, talent, and an increased role. Second year players with high draft pedigree usually experience an increase in playing time and production. These players have had a year to adjust to the NFL, and their teams feel more confident playing them in major roles. A player that fits this model is Arizona Cardinals LB Zaven Collins. This series was written in 2022 by Brandon Jackson, he is no longer contributing to Gridiron Ratings but should be considered the credited analyst for this piece.
The Cardinals drafted Zavan Collins in the 1st round with the 16th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Collins was an outstanding Draft prospect who was productive in all 3 of his seasons at Tulsa. Draft experts compared Collins to Chicago Bears Hall of Fame LB Brian Urlacher. Much like Urlacher, Collins is a huge athlete who made game changing plays at Tulsa. Collins had 4 interceptions (2 returned for touchdowns) in his final year of college in 2020.
IDP Fantasy gamers who drafted Collins in 2021 we’re likely disappointed. The buzz going into the season was that the rookie would start at ILB according to Cardinals GM Steve Keim. It was also rumored that veteran LB Jordan Hicks was going to play in a reserve role. Hicks was also given permission to seek a trade during the off-season. After Hicks wasn’t traded, the coaching staff chose to start veterans Hicks and Isaiah Simmons at ILB. With the Cardinals in win-now mode, Collins didn’t play much as a rookie and he was way off the fantasy radar.
Looking forward to the 2022 season there’s a reason for optimism for the fantasy stock of Collins. For one, we know that the Cardinals coaching staff prefers not to play rookies in a meaningful role. Expect for the coaching staff to get Collins prepared to take on a starting role next season. For context the Cardinals used Isaiah Simmons in a reserve role in his rookie season. Simmons was a 1st round pick for the Cardinals in 2020. Simmons had a 2nd year breakout by racking up 106 total tackles and 4 forced fumbles while playing in an every down role this past season. We’re projecting for Collins to breakout in a similar way next season.
Also notable is that aging veteran Jordan Hicks is going into the final season of his contract. Advanced metrics show that Collins performed better than Hicks in pass coverage. Hicks allowed a completion on 72.6% of targets thrown his way, while Collins only allowed a completion on 57% of targets thrown his way. The Cardinals can move on from Hicks with a minimal hit to their salary cap. With Hicks likely on the way out of Arizona, Collins likely will be playing in an every down role next season. It wouldn’t surprise me if Collins leads the Cardinals in tackles next season. Collins recorded a tackle on 11.3% of his snaps, while his teammate Isaiah Simmons recorded a 10.4% tackle rate this past season. Collins is a high upside player. Don’t forget about Zaven Collins’s key diagnosis in your IDP Drafts next season!