PHOENIX – The start of the 2020 NFL Draft shaped up favorably for the Arizona Cardinals.
Three quarterbacks were selected in the top six picks leaving Arizona, picking eighth, with a lot of talent to pick from in an effort to bulk up a weak offensive line or add firepower to the defense.
The Cardinals chose the latter, selecting versatile Clemson standout Isaiah Simmons, a linebacker-safety hybrid.
In a Zoom call with the news media, Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim rated Simmons among the top-five players on his draft big board, so the choice was clear once Simmons slipped to the eighth spot.
“We feel like he’s an unusual, unique and dynamic player,” Keim said. “I’ve scouted very few guys who’ve possessed this kind of talent.”
What Simmons brings is athleticism and versatility. He can line up at inside or outside linebacker, or as a defensive back, as he did at Clemson.
And at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, he’s bigger than several of Arizona’s linebackers from last year yet still recorded the third-fastest 40-yard dash time among defensive players at the 2020 NFL Combine, a scorching 4.39 seconds, the Sporting News reported
“I’m a guy that’s not narrowed down to one position,” Simmons said, also via Zoom. “If I need to play safety one week or linebacker one week or get to the passer, I can get all that done.”
The Athletic’s draft analyst, Dane Brugler, broke down his strengths this way:
“Overall, Simmons is the ideal modern-day defender with his ability to blitz, cover and stop the run, projecting as a unique four-down defender with the multidimensional skills to be deployed in any situation.”
He promises to bring much-needed help to Arizona’s defense, which was in the bottom tier of NFL defensive units in 2019. The Cardinals allowed the fifth-most points in the league last season and the most yards.
Plus, the Cardinals were the worst team in the league at defending tight ends last year, according to RotoGrinders.
Keim said many safeties are too small to handle tight ends, and many linebackers struggle to cover tight ends in open space. Simmons is the perfect hybrid in that sense.
“When it comes to covering tight ends, I think the biggest thing is the guys who can cover the tight ends don’t have the size, and the guys that have the size don’t have the coverage skills,” Simmons said. “I feel like I have a pretty good mixture where I may be a little more apt to cover them.”
Simmons was everywhere on defense last season with 104 total tackles, seven sacks, eight pass deflections and three interceptions.
And after playing on two national championship teams and in three College Football Playoff National Championship games during his four seasons at Clemson, Simmons is accustomed to the spotlight.
In the 2020 championship game, which Clemson lost to LSU, he recorded seven tackles, including a sack, and deflected two passes.
“Everything we’ve found out about the kid is that he picks things up quickly,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “They moved him around so many different places in college that he picked it up with no issue.”
Simmons said he was “beyond excited” to join the Cardinals and revealed he has been using Cardinals defensive end Chandler Jones and cornerback Patrick Peterson when playing the Madden NFL video game for “a long time.”
Throughout the rest of the draft, the Cardinals are expected to work on bolstering their defense and the offensive lines. (Pro Football Focus ranked Arizona’s offensive line only 22nd in the NFL last season).
But adding a player who fills multiple holes on the defensive side has Keim and Kingsbury excited for the team’s draft start.
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