Draft grades: Cardinals select Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons at No. 8
The Arizona Cardinals went defense with their first round pick, selecting Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons at No. 8 overall.
The most versatile defender in the draft, Simmons played all over that side of the field in college and is viewed by some as a prospect similar to Tyrann Mathieu or Derwin James.
Listed at 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds, Simmons impressed at the NFL Combine with a 4.39 40-yard dash.
National reporters who graded the draft tended to be relatively high on the pick, and both supporters and those who question the fit had overall the same message: Simmons can play so many positions, so where will he play?
Reasoning: Isaiah Simmons is a game-changer. He’ll be a factor in flat/slot coverage due to his length and ability to move in space. Though he wasn’t used as a pass rusher at Clemson, he will learn to do so at the next level if the Cardinals want to use him in that role. The sky’s the limit.
Where will he play? We know the uber-versatile Clemson star can operate at almost any position—that’s why he was drafted as high as he was. But in Arizona’s 3-4, one-gap-based scheme, will he be seen more as a cover linebacker or as a hard-hitting safety? The Cardinals themselves may not yet fully know (though they wouldn’t have drafted Simmons No. 8 overall if they didn’t at least have a hunch). Pairing him with Budda Baker gives Arizona two dynamic movable chess pieces, which will help a defense that has struggled mightily on third down.
Reasoning: I’m not in love with this kid as a player. The range is phenomenal, but where does he play? Is he a safety? Is he a linebacker? Is he a hybrid? This kid to me is a safety. I don’t think he’s physical enough to play near the line of scrimmage.
Reasoning: Simmons is a rare athlete with elite versatility who can impact games in coverage, as a blitzer and in run support. The Cardinals are already loaded on offense, and now they get the perfect man to fix their struggles vs. tight ends, a position where NFC West offenses are loaded.
Reasoning: From a best player available standpoint, Simmons is a slam dunk of a pick for the Cardinals. Given general manager Steve Keim’s drafting history, he tends to like defensive players who are versatile. Sometimes it works out (Tyrann Mathieu) and sometimes it doesn’t (Hassan Reddick). The problem with this pick is Simmons can’t block for Kyler Murray on offense. Which is maybe the one thing Simmons can’t do. This pick is akin to Derwin James falling to the Chargers in 2018.
Reasoning: Simmons is the ultimate all-purpose weapon on defense, and it’s up to the Cardinals to use him that way. He must be used as a Derwin James-type nickel linebacker/slot corner/box safety/edge-rusher to be truly effective. If he’s limited to any one of those roles, he will be just another solid player, not a potential superstar.
Kiper analyzed the first round but did not give the selections a grade.
Reasoning: OK, this isn’t quite a “head-scratching pick,” but I’m surprised Arizona passed on an offensive tackle at No. 8. I love Simmons — I called him the safest pick in this class — but where does he fit in the Cardinals’ 3-4 defense? He’s not a true edge rusher. Could he play some safety there? General manager Steve Keim called him a “Swiss Army knife,” and I agree; but Keim had his pick of all of the offensive tackles, and he passed. So I can like the player but scratch my head a little bit at the fit and value.