Cardinals draft Isaiah Simmons to plug multiple holes on defense as Arizona’s perfect offseason continues

Super Bowls aren’t won in the spring. The offseason champion seldom wins a championship — just ask the Cleveland Browns. After a five-win season, the Arizona Cardinals certainly aren’t Super Bowl contenders, not in a league that features the likes of the Chiefs and the Ravens or in a division that includes both the Seahawks and 49ers. 

But they’re experiencing the offseason of their wildest dreams, the kind of offseason that does translate to hope in the short term, and should translate to wins in the long term — and maybe, just maybe, a playoff berth as early as the coming season. Back in January, after the Cardinals finished their fourth-straight playoff-less season, it would’ve been impossible to imagine their offseason unfolding as well as it has, at least as of Thursday night. Even still, it would take a catastrophe in the mid-to-late rounds on Friday and Saturday for the Cardinals’ offseason not to be considered a roaring success.

A little more than a month after they stole DeAndre Hopkins from the Texans, the Cardinals entered Thursday night’s virtual draft with ultimate flexibility. The offensive line and pretty much every area on defense were clear needs, but even taking a receiver like CeeDee Lamb or Jerry Jeudy would’ve been justifiable. Picking at No. 8, they watched the first seven picks unfold perfectly. Three of the first six picks were quarterbacks — the one area the Cardinals don’t have a need at with Kyler Murray, after a Rookie of the Year season, locked in as the team’s franchise quarterback. One spot ahead of the Cardinals at No. 7, the Panthers took a defensive tackle in Derrick Brown, even though they just lost linebacker Luke Kuechly to an early retirement and the draft’s best linebacker, Isaiah Simmons, was sitting there. 

Which left Simmons for the Cardinals at No. 8.

There’s an argument to be made that protecting Murray by taking an offensive lineman would’ve filled a bigger need, but in Simmons, the Cardinals are getting a player who fills more than one need on a defense with more than one hole. A year ago, the Cardinals trotted out the league’s 23rd-ranked defense by DVOA. They already had Chandler Jones at edge rusher and Patrick Peterson at cornerback — two of the league’s best players at their respective position groups — and they added Jordan Phillips at defensive tackle and De’Vondre Campbell at linebacker during free agency, but the Cardinals still needed another pass rusher to compliment Jones, another linebacker to support Campbell, and another cover guy to help Peterson.

It’s quite possible the Cardinals got all three in one player. Simmons might be listed as a linebacker, but he’s more than just a linebacker. He’s drawn comparisons to Darius Leonard (an All-Pro linebacker) and Derwin James (an All-Pro safety). He has tremendous speed (4.39 40-yard dash), length, size (6-foot-4), and athleticism. He can line up anywhere, as he did at Clemson, where he just captured the Dick Butkus Award.

In the modern NFL, versatility holds tremendous value. Simmons can rush the passer. He can drop back into coverage. He can defend against the run. For a team that needed to fill more than one hole on defense to emerge as a playoff-caliber team, what player had more value to them than Simmons? 

It’s true that a need at offensive line still exists. A year ago, the Cardinals allowed Murray to get sacked 48 times. But Murray, himself, was responsible for some of those sacks. It’s worth noting that the Cardinals’ offensive line ranked 10th in pass block win rate. The Cardinals should try to upgrade the offensive line in the middle rounds — someone like Prince Tega Wanogho out of Auburn could be in play in the third round, when the Cardinals pick again (barring a trade up) — but there’s an argument to be made that getting a premium player on defense was a more urgent need. 

Which is exactly what the Cardinals got. There’s not another player like Simmons in this draft.

Two more days in the draft are still to come. The Cardinals aren’t scheduled to pick again until No. 72. More work remains for a team stuck in the league’s toughest division.

But in one offseason alone, they added arguably the league’s best receiver in Hopkins, an underrated defensive tackle in Phillips, a starting-caliber linebacker in Campbell, and now, a Derwin James / Darius Leonard linebacker/safety hybrid. As the picks continue to roll in between now and Saturday night, the Cardinals can sit back — Kliff Kingsbury style — and admire what they’ve accomplished in one offseason alone.

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