ARIZONA CARDINALS

NFL Networks’ Frelund: Budda Baker is Cardinals’ most underappreciated

May 23, 2020, 7:12 AM
Budda Baker (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)...
Budda Baker (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker’s 147 tackles last season ranked fourth in the NFL, and there’s a reason he found himself around the ball to that degree.

Although Baker made his first Pro Bowl as a safety, NFL Networks analytics expert Cynthia Frelund called Baker Arizona’s most underappreciated player because of his frequent involvement in 2019.

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph played Baker everywhere.

I challenge you to find a player who was more versatile than Baker in 2019. Next Gen Stats shows the following snap distribution for Baker (this is about to become a meaty sentence): 647 snaps at safety, 174 as an outside linebacker, 155 as a slot corner, 39 at inside linebacker, 31 as an edge defender, 12 at left corner and 10 on the right. That’s 1,068 snaps that pretty much required him to be a defensive coordinator on the field. My spatial model shows that Baker’s ability to stop and/or limit runs when he was playing safety ranked 12th best in the NFL last season. With their smart offseason acquisitions, including No. 8 overall pick Isaiah Simmons, who also has a versatile college resume, the Cardinals’ defense figures to be much more efficient in 2020.

For the first time in his four-year career, Baker will play under a returning defensive coordinator.

That, he told Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf in March, should help him take another step forward — and maybe help him record his first interception, something that’s eluded him through 46 games played.

“Having the same coaching staff, having the same faces and all that type of stuff is definitely going to help,” Baker said. “As grown men, having a new guy come in every time, you got to learn him and you have to do all that … I feel like having these guys (return), we know who they are, we know how they coach, we know how they play the defense and the game.

“This same coaching staff is definitely going to help me elevate my game personally as a player. I’m playing my real position that I love to play.”

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