Entering week 4 against the Carolina Panthers the Cardinals biggest preseason question of "How do they make the playoffs in the NFC?" has switched to "What is going on with Isaiah Simmons?"
The 8th overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft has logged just 35 total snaps on the defensive side of the ball through three games. Instead of optimistically charting a path to the playoffs through nearly 20% of the season, Cardinals fans are agonizing over whether Steve Keim has done it again with his first round selection.
Since taking over as GM, Keim's 1st round draft track record is as bad as any in football: Jonathan Cooper, Deone Bucannon, DJ Humphries, Robert Nkemdiche, Haason Reddick, Josh Rosen, Kyler Murray and Simmons. Of course Kyler is great but so far only Humphries has earned a second contract with the Cardinals while Cooper, Nkemdiche, Reddick and Rosen would all fairly qualify as first round busts.
With injuries piling up at the safety position, Kliff Kingsbury openly acknowledged the team may consider moving their 2020 first round pick Isaiah Simmons to Safety.
Should the Cardinals move him to safety? It's one of several choices the team has right now. Here are the team's options with their first round pick, as I see them:
1) Move Simmons to Safety
- It might not be that simple. If Simmons was a natural NFL safety, wouldn't the team or a team above the Cardinals have drafted him as one? Safety is a higher premium position than inside linebacker and if Simmons was really capable of being the next Derwin James, Minkah Fitzpatrick or Jamal Adams- type player, wouldn't he have been firmly planted at the position out of the gate? Plus, the Cardinals have preached all offseason about the necessity for Simmons to learn one position to truly succeed. It's not much of a plan if at the first sign of trouble you are bailing on it. That's more panic than preparation. Plenty of Cardinals fans have worked through what happens if Simmons succeeds at safety; suddenly the Cardinals have a playmaker and formidable trio of player makers in the defensive backfield when healthy. But what happens if he fails? What happens if Simmons with no preseason reps or practice reps until this week gets spun around and exposed in the secondary and has now failed at two different NFL positions in his first month on the job? If Budda Baker is back after one week, as has been reported possible, was it really necessary to further complicate Simmons rookie season development because Steve Keim decided to keep a gimmicky third QB in Chris Streveler instead of an additional body in the secondary? If you move Simmons to safety and then back to ILB after a week or two, are you not basically setting him on Haason Reddick's ping pong position course? This may sound like the most simple solution but to me its the riskiest.
2) Keep Simmons at ILB and let him take his lumps
- After Kyle Shanahan exposed Simmons's inexperience to the NFL world, the Cardinals have been reluctant to put him back out on the field. Clearly they'd prefer he get some more practice confidence before throwing him back to the play calling wolves but how can Simmons truly improve if he's not on the field? Meanwhile, DeVondre Campbell is playing excellent football and taking him off the field doesn't sound like a good idea. If the Cardinals put Simmons out there and let him sink or swim, it might be like putting a rookie QB out too soon and watching as the QB develops bad habits and happy feet all because he wasn't ready in the first place. Clearly Simmons has some ripening to do at ILB but the Cardinals can't know for sure what he is or isn't unless he plays.
3) Call up JAX, CLE, NYJ and TB
- Does someone want a delayed draft day swap? Obviously this would never happen mostly because the teams drafting after the Cardinals love what they ended up with. CJ Henderson, Jedrick Wills, Mekhi Becton and Tristan Wirfs were four out of the next five picks immediately following Simmons. All of them had the same weird offseason and no preseason and all of them are amongst the best rookies in football through the month of September. Right now, all four teams are hanging up the phone and laughing at the Cardinals. The only calls Keim is getting are the "Thank you" kind for letting great players slip later into the draft. Maybe Jerry Jones is crazy enough to take Keim's call and give the Cardinals a chance at a do over on CeeDee Lamb.
4) Move Simmons to OLB
- The Cardinals could listen to the 8 Mile soundtrack on a loop in Steve Keim's office and realize they have one shot to get it right with Simmons this season. They better make it count. Are they 100% sure Simmons is best suited to start at ILB? Would OLB make more sense? Sure, he'd need to put on some weight eventually but would Simmons natural athletic ability better serve him trying to get to the QB rather than trying to diagnose traffic? Its working (finally) for Haason Reddick, is it ultimately Simmons's fate too?
5) Do nothing and be patient
- The Cardinals should block out the noise, well that basically just means The Drive, and ignore the calls for changing anything right now. Sign a veteran safety, wait for Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson to return to health, let Campbell do his thing at ILB and make Simmons earn every snap on the field he gets. It's basically a redshirt season which while exceptionally rare for a top 10 NFL pick, might still be the best path. Simmons would get practice reps, gain confidence and only see the field if and when an injury compelled him to take the field. Otherwise the Cardinals would put a full offseason into Simmons refining the nuances of playing defense in the NFL and hope to unleash him as a defensive weapon in 2021.
To me option #5 is the most sound decision all things considered.
While it might not help the Cardinals in 2020, this team's best likely is down the road anyway, why not make sure Simmons is part of it?