It’s not often a player molded in a metaphoric athletic lab comes around in the yearly NFL draft cycle. Isaiah Simmons, a 6-foot-4, 238-pound dynamic combo of speed and power, has all the God-given talent to become one of the league’s top defensive talents, and in quick fashion.
Simmons, the eighth-overall pick in 2020, entered the Arizona Cardinals facility with high hopes and even higher expectations.
“We trained Isaiah in six different defensive positions,” linebackers coach Bill Davis said.
Simmons was a positionless talent at Clemson lining up everywhere for the Brent Venables-led defense, working at both linebacker spots, in the slot at nickel, and out wide as a defensive back. Whether or not Simmons possessed the ability to transfer his skill set from Clemson to Arizona in his first year wasn’t a question—he’s an athletic marvel—but rather the responsibility of learning a multitude of roles could have hampered his overall success in his rookie season as a pro in a COVID-19-rattled campaign with limited practice time and zero preseason snaps. Despite his lack of success in Year 1, Simmons was ultimately tasked with studying a blank canvas in a pandemic-stricken season.
Moving forward towards the 2021 season, expect the do-it-all defender to slowly begin to paint the picture into the game-changing type of defender Cardinals brass hoped he would become all along.
While Simmons will still be tasked with sliding from position to position throughout Vance Joseph’s defense, the addition of '21 first-round selection Zaven Collins will result in a downgrading of Simmons’ variety of roles; Simmons will work primarily out of the “MO” linebacker spot, tasked with still providing a punch in the run while covering opposing ball-carriers, tight ends, and slot wide receivers in coverage, but in a lesser capacity. A tall task for any defensive player, sure, but for Simmons, it’s all just a part of the script in Joseph’s aggressive 3-4 defensive scheme.
“He’s a Swiss Army knife,” Davis continued.
“It is very, very frustrating for an offense to see Isaiah out there and not be able to identify his position. We find we get a pretty good advantage by moving him around a little bit, as long as he can handle it, and he has proven, especially at the end of last season, that he absolutely can handle multiple positions.”
With optimism aplenty surrounding Simmons, it’s hard to ignore the faults from his first season and how he can inherently improve upon them; from his benching in Week 1 following an offensive clinic experienced first hand from Raheem Mostert to his nearly nine-yards per completion allowed in 376 defensive snaps, there’s much to build off of in his sophomore campaign. Simmons was on the field for just 34% of all snaps played in 16 games last fall, a number that is surely to increase as he becomes increasingly experienced, comfortable, and up to speed with NFL play.
It’s not a one-year trial of error, but rather the repetition included within a full offseason and the willingness of general manager Steve Keim to allow De’Vondre Campbell and Haason Reddick to walk supersedes any doubts of Simmons earning the moniker of a bust just one season in.
It’s simply an inaccurate and erroneous statement.
Rather, I offer you to focus on the positive of what can be a down-grading process when discussing first-year talents as they progress into the body of their careers, especially a top-10 talent.
Focus on the interception of Russell Wilson on the national stage in which Simmons recorded just five snaps in the entirety of the matchup, or the progression of his eyes and fluidity in attacking gaps in the run game or quick twitch ability in coverage towards the latter half of the season. In a day in age where everyone is quick to jump the gun on an outlandish opinion, sit back and enjoy the rapid rise of a soon-to-be elite-impact defender within a roster surrounded with major expectations in Kliff Kingsbury’s ever-important third season in charge.