Dating back to the days of Bethune-Cookman’s Rashean Mathis, the FCS has maintained a penchant for producing ball-hawking defensive backs who beat the odds and thrive at the NFL level. Filing in behind a line that includes Mathis, Coastal Carolina’s Josh Norman, James Madison’s Jimmy Moreland, Southern Illinois’ Jeremy Chinn, and others, Sam Houston State corner Zyon McCollum is the new ballhawk of the FCS.
No raw statistic ever tells the full story, but there is some correlation between the ball production of a defensive back and overall success. Ball production demands certain coinciding factors: That the defensive back is in a position to make a play on the ball, that the defensive back has the traits to get into that position, whether it be athleticism, size, or mental acuity, and that the defensive back can ultimately capitalize.
The confluence of these factors leads to superior ball production, as we’ve seen in previous years. Coveted 2020 NFL Draft prospect, Chinn, had the athleticism and size necessary to be a force in coverage, and Sam Houston State corner McCollum benefits from the same traits.
Analyzing Sam Houston State corner Zyon McCollum
McCollum’s size immediately stands out, as the cornerback stands at around 6-foot-4, 195 pounds. He’s one of the longest players on his defensive unit, and despite his size, McCollum is a fairly fluid mover, compounding his upside as a rare type of cornerback.
McCollum will be entering his senior season this fall, but he’s already accomplished a great deal at the FCS level. In three seasons, McCollum has been a standout for the Bearkats, amassing 9 interceptions, 2 pick-sixes, 1.5 sacks, 5.0 tackles for loss, 4 forced fumbles, and 39 pass deflections over that period.
Despite playing in just nine games in 2019, McCollum matched his interception and pass deflection totals from the previous year (3 interceptions, 11 pass deflections), and was awarded second-team All-Southland Conference honors. He’s never logged less than 3 interceptions or 11 pass breakups in a season, and his tireless consistency has earned him notoriety not just at the FCS level, but in early 2021 scouting communities as well.
McCollum’s production is surprisingly multifaceted, but unlike Chinn, he doesn’t project so much as a safety-linebacker hybrid as he does as a true down-to-down cornerback. He’s started every one of his 34 career games at cornerback, and while trans-positional versatility is a coveted trait in the modern NFL, McCollum’s status as a cornerback makes his outlook that much more exciting.
Cornerbacks rarely have McCollum’s amalgamation of traits, and cornerbacks with outlier heights don’t always pan out at the NFL level. Tall cornerbacks sometimes come with mobility concerns, which limits their ability to thrive in an NFL that ultimately prioritizes quickness and positioning before stride length and wingspan.
McCollum, of course, has superior ball production for a reason. He has the all-encompassing length of a taller cornerback, but he’s also mobile and smooth in his movement. He ran a 4.40 40-yard dash time at a prospect camp in high school, and his speed is evident in glimpses of his tape.
McCollum flashes quick hip transitions in coverage and has the closing speed to impact the catch point with consistency. McCollum’s explosive athleticism also helps him in contested situations downfield, where he’s able to rise toward the ball, box out receivers, and out-muscle them for plays on the ball.
Additionally, McCollum also plays fast, with an urgency that helps him maximize his athletic traits. The clip below does well to display this. McCollum is the defender closest to the camera. Look how quickly he flips his hips at the goal line, sprints to the sideline to close off the lane from the ball carrier, and uses his body mass to force the ball free.
Zyon McCollum with a HUGE forced fumble to keep UIW out of the end zone! #EatEmUpKats
— Sam Houston State Football (@BearkatsFB) September 22, 2019
McCollum has one more year to prove he’s one of the most productive defenders, not only at the FCS level but in all of college football. However, no matter what he does in 2020, there will still be questions about his impending transition to the NFL. Questions always linger for FCS prospects, as sometimes the leap from the FCS to the pinnacle of the sport is too big for prospects to withstand.
He will eventually have to prove that his athleticism, at 6-foot-4, is enough for him to continue playing cornerback on the NFL stage. But for now, he can find comfort in knowing that there’s no one left in his division to challenge his title. Sam Houston State corner McCollum is the new ballhawk of the FCS, and he hopes to parlay that role into the ultimate rise.