Isaiah Simmons was the NFL’s new cool but the Arizona Cardinals unicorn’s best is yet to come

Isaiah Simmons entered the NFL as the perfect fit for Arizona Cardinals’ exotic defense Vance Joseph – Sky Sports’ Cameron Hogwood explores his vast role at the moment, and the best is yet to come…

Isaiah Simmons had nerdy quarterbacks who drooled when entering the NFL because of his ability to do, well, frankly, everything. Two seasons later, the Arizona Cardinals keep spinning and spinning the Rubik’s Cube in pursuit of the game’s totality.

Clemson’s head coach Dabo Sweeney called Simmons his unicorn, such was the versatility that challenged positional agreement with out-of-position freedom. His timing as such was ideal given the way the NFL has moved and evolved in regards to the demand for more explosive, more athletic quarterbacks to confuse the quarterback diagnosis with before and after the snap, while still having the IQ and flexibility to turn around. a dial between a no-ball linebacker, a pocket grabber on the line, and a roaming nickel defender.

In his senior year at college, Simmons played 116 snaps as an outside linebacker, 299 as an inside linebacker, 262 as a cornerback, 132 in free safety and 100 in strong safety, according to Pro Football Focus. The result was 104 tackles, 16.5 tackles to lose, eight sacks, three interceptions, eight pass defenses, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

He was a runaway prodigy of college football, prompting “to be portrayed as a tight end”, fantasizing and stealing hearts at the Scout Combine, becoming the first player since at least 2003 to rush 40 yards in under 4.4 seconds (4 39), 38-plus inch (39-inch) vertical jump, and 11-plus-foot (11-inch) long jump at 230-plus pounds.

He embodied the league’s defensive quirk, and looked like something of a factory incarnation of what Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph is aiming for. And so Arizona pounced on him with the eighth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, preparing for a potentially bumpy transition but knowing the reward outweighs the risk.

Simmons arrived as a linebacker/safety hybrid, though the Cardinals leaned primarily towards the former as he only played 33.9% of snaps in an education-focused rookie year. By the end of 2021, that had risen to 92.37%, the third-highest in Arizona defense as Simmons established himself as Joseph’s top blitzer along with ongoing positional rework.

With him came exotic wrinkles and a menu full of mixed duties as Joseph found himself free to alternate between 5-2 and 4-2-5 formations in which he could disguise fancy blitz packs and entrust the game to his flying defenders. on instinct with high security security to clean up, albeit rare, misfires.

The 4-2-5 formation often revolved around Simmons in the “star”, a name Nick Saban gave to the nickel extra defensive quarterback, as a player with size and athleticism to combat the risk of a tight end or inconsistencies with running backs in the invitation scheme on jogging in a lightbox.

In a league with two deep safety covers, it’s worth having an insurance policy like Simmons’s with his lateral quickness, long-range frame, and cut-off speed to patrol the weak spots below him from the threats of post-tackle yards and reinforced mesh structures. obsession of defense coordinators to reduce the explosive games in the bottom of the field.

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