Could Isaiah Simmons fall to Cardinals, fix TE woes? Mel Kiper Jr. thinks so

Mar 3, 2020, 11:50 AM | Updated: 9:02 pm
Clemson's Isaiah Simmons (11) and Denzel Johnson react after making a defensive play during the fir...
Clemson's Isaiah Simmons (11) and Denzel Johnson react after making a defensive play during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida State, in Clemson, S.C. Simmons was selected to The Associated Press All-Atlantic Coast Conference football team, and named Defensive Player of the Year, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro, File)
(AP Photo/Richard Shiro, File)

Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim has a tendency to think unconventionally.

And with Arizona holding the No. 8 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, there’s a chance the best player on the board is a position-bending player that could help Arizona fill a void once again.

Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons doesn’t fit any positional archetype. He’s got edge-rushing explosiveness and size with cover skills of a defensive back. He didn’t slot into one role in college, playing over 100 snaps at each of five positions, per Pro Football Focus.

Turns out, that causes apprehension for NFL scouts in terms of projecting how Simmons can translate to the NFL.

“I had an NFL guy tell me he’s too versatile for his own good,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. told Doug & Wolf from Arizona Sports on Tuesday.

Arizona surely could use the 6-foot-4, 238-pound Simmons if Keim and staff peg him as a regular inside linebacker, where he would play alongside the productive Jordan Hicks.

Simmons’ exact role could change by package, but the point is his versatility easily keeps him on the field at all times with the threat of using him as a blitzer, coverage man or run stopper. Simmons could be a breath of fresh air for a team that allowed 73 yards and one touchdown per game to opposing tight ends, both of which were the most in the NFL.

“He’s a safety. He flips his hips, he runs with these guys, he turns,” Kiper said. “You’ve got to cover these tight ends like (the Chiefs’ Travis) Kelce and these elite tight ends like (the 49ers’ George) Kittle. The Ravens live and die with Mark Andrews … their whole offense revolves around him.

“These are wide receivers in a tight end frame. I think Isaiah Simmons’ role will be that: neutralize the go-to tight end, H-back, whatever you want to call them. He can get after the quarterback as well.”

Keim surely hasn’t been afraid to go against the general draft trends or draft positionless players with high draft picks.

Kyler Murray was a quarterback shorter than 5-foot-11 and went first overall to the Cardinals last year. In 2014, Arizona drafted Washington State safety Deone Bucannon and converted him into a versatile inside linebacker that, to some degree, also changed the way NFL teams viewed the position.

A year before that, during Keim’s first year on the job, the GM drafted cornerback-slash-safety Tyrann Mathieu in the third round and watched over the next few years as he developed into one of the league’s premier slot corners.

Will Simmons fall to Arizona?

Kiper thinks there’s a slim chance despite Simmons running a 4.38-yard 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, second-fastest for a linebacker since 2006. Simmons rounded out thecombine performance with a 39-inch vertical jump and 11-foot broadjump, all of which were in the 90th percentile for the linebacker position.

A lot on him falling to No. 8 depends on whether there is an early quarterback run beyond the two best prospects, Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa.

With Ohio State defensive end Chase Young potentially going second overall to the Washington Redskins after the Bengals draft a quarterback first, it’s the Detroit Lions (third overall pick), New York Giants (fourth) and Carolina Panthers (seventh) who could potentially draft Simmons before the Cardinals pick.

The uncertainty about Simmons’ role could leave those teams to instead target Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah, Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown or others.

“It’ll be interesting to see who takes him,” Kiper said.

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Could Isaiah Simmons fall to Cardinals, fix TE woes? Mel Kiper Jr. thinks so