4 new NFC West players 49ers should worry about in 2021

Quarterback Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Quarterback Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /
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Zaven Collins, Arizona Cardinals
Arizona Cardinals linebacker Zaven Collins (25) Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

49ers worry-about player No. 2: LB Zaven Collins, Cardinals

A year ago, the Cardinals drafted safety/linebacker Isaiah Simmons out of Clemson almost exclusively to help cover San Francisco’s All-Pro tight end, George Kittle.

If that wasn’t budding enough a move to help bolster an improving Arizona team, the Cardinals doubled down on their efforts to help thwart Kittle by naming Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins as their top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Collins is a 6-foot-5 physical specimen who can play off the ball and make plays in space. Or he can be used up against the line of scrimmage, too, both as a quality run-stopper or even as a pass-rusher, evidenced by his four sacks last season and 25 total tackles for a loss over his three-year collegiate career.

Related: Cardinals’ NFL Draft class is biggest threat to 49ers

It’ll be interesting to see how Arizona deploys Collins. But with Simmons already coming into form in his own right, Collins’ presence should make the one-two defensive tandem one of the more intriguing pairs in the NFC West this season.

If anything, Arizona’s moves here show just how much respect Kittle commands.

True, a player like Kittle has the pedigree to overcome an addition like Collins. But that doesn’t remove the reality the rookie linebacker could be a serious force in this twice-a-year division series between these two NFC West squads.