NFL executives, evaluators weigh in on Cardinals’ 2020 NFL Draft picks

May 1, 2020, 7:01 PM | Updated: May 2, 2020, 3:08 pm

General manager Steve Keim of the Arizona Cardinals looks on during team OTA's at the Dignity Healt...

General manager Steve Keim of the Arizona Cardinals looks on during team OTA's at the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center on May 29, 2019 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Cardinals did what many around the Valley had hoped for in this year’s NFL Draft.

They not only took the best available player in Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons, they filled needs at other defensive positions through the draft.

Taking three defensive players in the first four rounds, Arizona clearly had a plan of reshaping the defense.

The Cardinals feel like they hit a home run in the moves made during the draft. But what about those on the outside looking in?

The Athletic’s Mike Sando gave coaches, executives and evaluators the opportunity to speak their minds anonymously on all 32 teams.

When focusing on the Cardinals, there’s one thing that stands out to evaluators when judging the team’s first-round selection; uncertainty over a specific role for Simmons.

“Haason Reddick was an edge rusher at a small school and they tried to make him a stand-up linebacker,” an evaluator said. “Robert Nkemdiche was a defensive tackle in a 40 front who they tried to make into a 30 defensive end. Deone Bucannon was this hybrid safety/linebacker. Here comes Simmons, a safety who could play linebacker. I’m not sure the record of projecting is there to make me confident they will maximize him. We’ll see.”

While Simmons is currently listed as a linebacker with the Cardinals, the former Tiger played at least five different positions with Clemson, including safety and cornerback. Using his versatility to his advantage, Simmons posted career numbers in tackles (104), tackles for loss (16.5), sacks (8.0), interceptions (3) and pass deflections (8).

Many in the Cardinals organization have touted his ability to move around the field as a strong point, being used as Swiss Army knife for the defense. Others believe that jumping from one position to the next could be a liability, not a blessing, for the Cardinals and Simmons.

“There was a freelance element in college where he is unblocked, running free,” an evaluator said. “They have to give him a position to play. It has to be a third-down nickel position to start off and then work from there. Those types of prospects can be a little scary, but it has been done before going back to Darren Woodson from those great Cowboys teams.”

Outside of the Cardinals’ draft, Arizona made waves this offseason with the acquisition of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texans. The Cardinals sent back their second-round pick (No. 40 overall) and former starting running back David Johnson as part of the exchange.

But what if the Cardinals never swung the deal for Hopkins and held onto the 40th pick?

According to one NFL executive, things could have looked a whole differently for Arizona.

“If they don’t trade 40 for Hopkins, instead of taking Simmons at eight, they are probably taking (Henry) Ruggs or (Jerry) Jeudy or (CeeDee) Lamb because there is no receiver there at 40,” an exec said. “Maybe they either take a receiver at eight and don’t get a linebacker, because a lot of those guys went, or they take Simmons and don’t get a receiver of the same caliber.”

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NFL executives, evaluators weigh in on Cardinals’ 2020 NFL Draft picks