The Arizona Cardinals have a plethora of talent across the board. It’s why they’re on top of the NFC West at 8-2.
General manager Steve Keim has put together a solid roster of young and old. He’s hit on free agents, keeping veteran edge rusher Markus Golden and signing All-Pro receiver A.J. Green. We’ve seen a terrific season out of 2019 second-round pick corner Byron Murphy and glimpses of rookie receiver Rondale Moore’s prowess.
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Arizona has lost two of their last three games. But when Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins come back from injury, this team can look just like the group that started 7-0.
There are so many reasons to point out why the Cardinals are serious contenders.
We’re not going to forget one youngster who hasn’t been in the spotlight as much as others.
Most players in every professional sports discover the “sophomore slump.”
For second-year linebacker Isaiah Simmons, it’s the opposite.
After an offseason without any preseason games or even OTAs due to COVID-19, he started his career in 2020 against the division rival San Francisco 49ers.
It wasn’t pretty.
In Week 1 of 2020, the game started with a Simmons’ horse-collar penalty that cost the Cardinals 15 yards. He never seemed comfortable and looked in disarray at times in coverage. After playing 29 percent of the defensive snaps in Week 1, he wouldn’t reach a percentage that high until Week 9.
Fast forward one season later, Bleacher Report’s NFL writer Kristopher Knox recognizes Simmons as the “Most Improved” Cardinal of 2021.
Simmons has taken a big second-year leap, particularly in coverage. He’s allowed an opposing passer rating of only 77.4 after allowing a rating of 102.0 as a rookie. He’s started all 10 games this season and is finally playing like the defensive centerpiece he was drafted to be.
Simmons has played 93 percent of the defensive snaps and has compiled 67 tackles, three force fumbles, four passes defended and an interception.
Before Week 10, Simmons joined Colts All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard as the only players this season with 50 plus tackles, three forced fumbles and four passes defended.
However, while Simmons tallied eight tackles against the Panthers, he was among the three-lowest graded defenders on the Cardinals according to Pro Football Focus. So the timing of Knox’s piece might not be as perfect as it seems.
But keep in mind, Carolina’s rushing attack with Christian McCaffrey is hard to stop and the whole team couldn’t keep up with Joe Brady’s concepts.
Nonetheless, Simmons looks like a nice building block. His sideline-to-sideline speed was evident in coverage against Pro Bowler Aaron Jones on Thursday Night Football.
Simmons has shown why he was a top 10 pick time and time again in 2021. He was flying against the 49ers, forcing a fumble on 2020 first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk.
And it seems like an eternity ago now, but Simmons totaled nine tackles and an interception in the opener against the 8-2 Titans.
Simmons played 91% of the snaps and kept Derrick Henry in check, who stuffed the All-Pro running back twice in the red zone.
With Simmons on the edge at times, you can see how much of a freight train he truly is. Just ask 49ers rookie quarterback Trey Lance, who got stuffed on the goal-line on fourth down.
Coming into 2021, Simmons was a bit of a question mark.
Now, you can see clearly the versatility that Simmons brings. His elusiveness on the edge, slot corner and in the box is put on display to the point where you don’t even know where No. 9 will be next.
He has shown in his second season why you should ease up on rookies and be patient with their development.