I know that Steve Keim feels like drafting Isaiah Simmons was a no-brainer, but in some ways it was the ultimate risk. “Un-boxed” players - those who don’t fit into a nicely wrapped positional package - are the ultimate test of organizational fortitude. You better have a plan, or you’ll be exposed.
Just ask the Dolphins, who traded Minkah Fitzpatrick, only to watch him flourish with the Steelers - with their history of carving out roles for unique talents like Troy Polamalu, Kordell Stewart and Antwaan Randle El.
Or, you could ask Cardinals general manager Steve Keim, who’s been in search for an un-boxed stud since 2014, when he drafted safety/linebacker hybrid Deone Bucannon in the first round. As that experiment was ending, the Cardinals began a new one, taking “inside/outside” linebacker Haason Reddick in the first round of 2017. Reddick has bounced around positions without much production, and word around the NFL is that the Cardinals would be just fine moving on from him this offseason.
Andy Benoit talked about how important it is to have a defined plan for uncommon skillsets on my show today:
“If you’re gonna take [Simmons}, I think you need to be a proactive defense. You almost need to play defense as if you’re playing offense. I’m curious to see what the plan in place is for that,” Benoit said.
A quick look around the NFL demonstrates Benoit’s point. The Swiss Army Knifes, the un-boxed players, that have thrived in the NFL have done so in organizations with a track record of successful planning. Jamie Collins has thrived with the Patriots, in a role that Deone Bucannon was supposed to thrive in with the Cardinals. Minkah Fitzpatrick went from “ehh” to “holy sh—“ after a midseason trade to Pittsburgh in only his second year. Derwin James exploded onto the scene with the Chargers, playing a role that many in the league feel Isaiah Simmons is destined for.
Spending twenty minutes with reporters on Tuesday, Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph revealed that Simmons “is going to be a linebacker,” but that the Cardinals “drafted [Simmons] because of what we saw him do at Clemson.” A few minutes later, when asked if what Simmons did at Clemson translates to the NFL, Joseph said “some of it is, some of it’s not.” As far as Simmons playing strong safety? “It’s very possible,” said Joseph, before admitting that “until we touch him, until we gameplan, I can’t guarantee where he’s gonna be.”
Maybe Joseph is just playing his cards close to his chest. Hopefully. Knowing exactly how a player will fit into your organization is paramount, especially when that player comes before the tenth pick in the draft.
Do the Cardinals have a plan, or were they just seduced by a guy whose physical potential is unmatched in the NFL? We’ll see. In the meantime, I’d be on the phone with Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables if I were Vance Joseph.