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Breaking Down Isaiah Simmons #8 to Arizona Cardinals: Q&A with Revenge of the Birds

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NFL: NFL Draft USA TODAY Sports

Following the first round of the NFL draft, we connected with Seth Cox at Revenge of the Birds, SB Nation’s Arizona Cardinals site, to get his analysis on the Cardinals pick Isaiah Simmons 8th overall. Be sure to follow them at @revengeofbirds.

STS: With most projections showing Simmons to the Giants at #4 or the Panthers at #7, I imagine this pick came as a surprise. What has the immediate reaction been from you and the broader fan base?

Seth: Simmons was definitely the 1a or 1b for most of the Arizona Cardinals fanbase with only Jeff Okudah having as much pure support behind him. There was a belief that one of Okudah or Simmons would be there at eight, maybe it was hope more than anything, to look to improve the Arizona Cardinals worst ranked NFL defense from 2019.

When Okudah went third, it became basically bargaining with every team to not take Simmons. When Carolina went on the clock it was just pure tension as fans knew it was Simmons or Brown for the Panthers. Cards fans were feeling 50/50 on Brown, so the heavy favorite was for Simmons to make it through. Once the Panthers made the pick, it was just thankfulness that the Cardinals got their guy. In nearly 1,000 votes on our grade poll, there are 18 combined votes for a grade below a “B” and 750 votes of an “A” . If that isn’t pure support, I don’t know what is.

STS: Isaiah Simmons benefitted from playing for the best defensive coordinator in college football, Brent Venables. Coach V was able to get the most out of Simmons’ talent and athleticism by moving him around the field and varying his defensive looks so defenses never knew how he (or his teammates) would be utilized. How do you expect the Cardinals to utilize Simmons? Do you expect him to start from day one?

Seth: I don’t know if he’ll start from day one but I think he’ll play as much as the starters if that makes sense. The Cardinals spent their offseason making sure that whoever their draft pick became didn’t need to start on defense or offense, and with the state of the offseason in question, it was even more important for that to happen.

However, with Simmons I think the goal will be to get him prepared to be used in a similar way that he was used at Clemson. He’ll play for Jalen Thompson at strong safety or join Thompson and Budda Baker in a three safety look and take one of the inside linebackers off the field. He’ll rotate into the linebacker position in nickel and dime situations, and he’ll flex down on the edge in some situations. They’ll try and mimic his usage from Clemson but in pieces, knowing that he’ll likely be in a difficult situation (along with every other rookie) due to the loss of offseason work.

STS: In 2015, the Cardinals played in the NFC Championship game. The last two seasons they’ve combined for just eight wins. How much longer do you expect the rebuild to last before they’re playoff contenders? When can we expect to see Simmons and newly acquired Clemson-grad Nuk Hopkins in a playoff game? How critical is Simmons’ success in getting them there?

Seth: I think this season they are competing for a playoff spot especially with the expansion to seven teams making the playoffs, while the 2021 season they are competing for a chance to win the NFC. That at least should be the expectation level from everyone, as this will be year two of their rebuild and 2021 will be year three of Kyler Murray, Kliff Kingsbury and what should be a dynamic offensive attack.

Hopkins will be a key component of the team competing for the playoffs this year, as he should open up the offense and give Kyler the security blanket he missed his rookie season. As for Simmons, I never want to put too much on a rookie so I’ll say his growth will be important this year, but his overall development heading into 2021 will be the key to the defense taking the next step to being able to compete for an NFC Championship.

STS: I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to ask you about the Nuk Hopkins trade. Clemson fans were irate that the Texans traded him and left Deshaun Watson without a top WR target. How excited are Cardinals fans about the addition? What are expectations for him playing with Kyler Murray?

Seth: The offense for the Cardinals made massive strides from being historically bad (one of the worst offenses in NFL history in 2018) to downright average in 2019. One of the biggest missing pieces on offense was that alpha receiver who could compete and win consistently one-on-one. Hopkins is obviously that and more. He’s a premier talent entering the downslope (maybe 2-3 more years) of his prime which makes it perfect to pair with Kyler Murray. The team now should have a complete offense and be able to work equally in the run game and passing. It could be the biggest move of the offseason for the team and especially Kyler Murray.

Thank you to Seth Cox for giving us another perspective on Clemson graduate and first round draft pick, Isaiah Simmons. If you’d like to see our half of the Q&A, you can check that out here.