The Ringer’s Solak picks the biggest x-factor for the Cardinals

Sep 9, 2022, 7:01 PM
Inside linebacker Isaiah Simmons #9 of the Arizona Cardinals during the NFL game at State Farm Stad...
Inside linebacker Isaiah Simmons #9 of the Arizona Cardinals during the NFL game at State Farm Stadium on November 14, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. The Panthers defeated the Cardinals 34-10. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Nobody outside of the Arizona Cardinals locker room knows what kind of role Isaiah Simmons will have this year. But Ben Solak of The Ringer listed the third-year defensive athlete as the team’s biggest x-factor in 2022.

Simmons spent 2021 primarily at inside linebacker. His role this season, according to defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, is “star backer” — a defender that plays linebacker, safety and slot cornerback.

Despite a broad designation, Solak listed Simmons as a safety and guessing at where he’ll play believes good things could come from it.

I’m not convinced Simmons can cover traditional slot receivers, but I am convinced that an open-ended usage for Simmons is better than shoving him into the box as often as possible. The Cardinals defense is at its best when it lives in chaos: blitz packages, coverage rotations, fast bodies flying around. We’ve yet to see Simmons find his footing in that approach, but more snaps outside of linebacker can only help.

The third-year Cardinal played all over the field at Clemson. That versatility was one reason he went eighth overall in 2020.

He impacted the game in a multitude of ways his last two seasons in college. Over 30 games, he recorded four interceptions, 10 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss.

Perhaps letting him embrace the hybrid role could unlock Simmons’ potential. After all, he’d get snaps with a decorated safety group, as Budda Baker is a three-time All-Pro and four-time Pro-Bowler. Jalen Thompson is no slouch either, as the recently-extended safety led the team in tackles and was second in interceptions.

They’ll take most of the responsibility, while Simmons can be a game-wrecker.

On top of that, the Cardinals used a 2021 first-round pick on linebacker Zaven Collins. Collins will handle mike linebacker duties and veteran free-agent pickup Nick Vigil can play alongside the youngsters, freeing up more opportunity for Simmons to be versatile.

The Cardinals defense needs to elevate the play of their athletes. Pass-rusher Chandler Jones’ departure in free agency left a sizeable hole, and defensive end J.J. Watt’s health remains unpredictable. The defense becomes much more difficult to face if Simmons is productive.

He’s played every possible game so far in the NFL. That said, his availability and production haven’t translated to game-breaking numbers yet.

Through two seasons, Simmons has two interceptions, 3.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss. However, he finished third on the team with 105 tackles a season ago, nearly doubling the total of his rookie season.

The Cardinals hope to make their second consecutive postseason. Barring further setbacks on offense, they should have no problems scoring.

The defense needs to turn the ball over and make noise behind the line of scrimmage. Those were two things Simmons did proficiently in college, so it makes sense that he’s the biggest x-factor on the team.

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The Ringer’s Solak picks the biggest x-factor for the Cardinals