The 33rd Team: Arizona Cardinals LB group must improve in 2022
The Arizona Cardinals invested back-to-back first-round picks on linebackers Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins, but there are questions on how productive the two can be.
The 33rd Team’s Luke Carr thinks Arizona is one of five teams that must improve their linebacker play to see success in 2022.
Simmons was drafted No. 8 overall in the in 2020 NFL Draft and started every game last season while being third on the team in tackles (105), totaled 1.5 sacks and tied for second in passes defensed (seven) and forced fumbles (four).
For all their investment at the LB position in the last couple of seasons, the Cardinals LB play has not met the expectations that two first round draft picks carry. Isaiah Simmons is the “unicorn” of their defense and has lined up on the LOS, as an outside linebacker, and then in the box as a traditional LB at other times. His performance level has not been quite as expected at any of those positions, however. PFF gave him a 49.7 Defense Grade in 2021, ranking his performance level as 44th out of 54 defensive players drafted in the first three rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft.
With Jordan Hicks being a member of the Minnesota Vikings, Simmons will be one of the voices second-year pro-Collins leans on as he works to take over the starting MIKE linebacker spot.
He will be joined by former Vikings linebacker Nick Vigil, Tanner Vallejo, Joe Walker, Ezekiel Turner and Ben Niemann at the inside linebacker position.
In his first season, Collins saw a higher percentage of special team snaps (35%) than defensive (20%).
He totaled 25 tackles and did not record a sack over 17 games and six starts.
Zaven Collins was their latest draft pick at the position in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft and has not performed up to the level expected of the No. 16 overall pick. Markus Golden was outstanding in 2021 with 11 sacks, and they added Myjai Sanders via the draft on the other side to get to the QB more in 2022. Arizona will hope that another year of experience for these two young ILB draftees will pay dividends.