Zeirlein: Cardinals’ Simmons has LB competition in DROY chase

Jul 10, 2020, 8:49 AM

Isaiah Simmons (11) tackles AJ Dillon (2), causing a fumble, during the first half of an NCAA colle...

Isaiah Simmons (11) tackles AJ Dillon (2), causing a fumble, during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Clemson, S.C. Simmons was the Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year and a finalist for three national defensive player of the year awards. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro, File)

(AP Photo/Richard Shiro, File)

Ohio State product and Washington rookie Chase Young is the odds favorite to win the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year honor in 2020, but he’s got a band of classmates who could challenge him.

Early odds liked Arizona Cardinals linebacker Isaiah Simmons to win the award after Young, but’s Lance Zeirlein sees a more complex competition considering linebackers alone.

He has Simmons No. 4 on a list of potential defensive rookie of the year winners.

Simmons is a tremendous athletic specimen with rare versatility to go with impressive height, length and speed. His ability to operate as a hybrid defender could allow Arizona to move him around the field as a matchup neutralizer. There’s risk in asking him to do too much too soon — something the Cardinals appear to be aiming to avoid — but he has the potential to shine in a manner similar to (Indianapolis Colts LB) Darius Leonard.

Zeirlein lists Young first and Baltimore Ravens linebacker and 28th overall pick Patrick Queen as the second most-likely defensive rookie of the year candidate. Queen is followed by Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Kenneth Murray, the 23rd pick.

They enter their respective situations expected to start and play significant snaps. For Simmons in Arizona, there’s a lot more unknown, even though the Cardinals have promised they don’t want to overextend the versatile defender.

Simmons will learn to become an inside linebacker first and foremost, but defensive coordinator Vance Joseph hasn’t ruled out using him as an effective nickelback or safety against certain matchups and in specific situations.

Simmons’ Arizona teammates factor in here. Arizona signed veteran De’Vondre Campbell to pair him with Jordan Hicks at inside backer, and they could take snaps if Simmons isn’t up to speed after this odd offseason, one with no actual football activities to this point.

Still, the expectations remain high for Simmons, even from Zeirlein, who has the No. 8 overall pick ranked ahead of other high-profile players expected to take on big roles as rookies, including Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah (No. 3 pick) and Panthers defensive tackle Derrick Brown (No. 7 pick).

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Zeirlein: Cardinals’ Simmons has LB competition in DROY chase