Despite a rough first season in the NFL, linebacker Isaiah Simmons is expected to be a star. Projected to be a Week 1 starter, PFF predicts the eighth overall pick in 2020 to be a true breakout candidate in 2021.
In recent years, the Arizona Cardinals most notable picks in the draft were the selection of quarterbacks in consecutive years in 2018 and 2019. However, either side of those picks, in 2017 and 2020, Arizona selected a linebacker. Haason Reddick was the team’s selection in 2017 and Simmons was the choice in 2020. Yet is there a case for another in 2021? Arizona Cardinals broadcaster Paul Calvisi seems to think so, regularly campaigning for the selection of an inside linebacker in the upcoming draft. The availability of a generational talent at 16 overall is the core of Calvisi’s case for drafting an inside linebacker in consecutive years. Given the Cardinals’ obvious needs in other areas, is selecting an inside linebacker an option for Steve Keim come April?
Micah Parsons to the Arizona Cardinals: Analyzing the Fit
As it Stands: Jordan Hicks
Since coming over from the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2019 offseason, Jordan Hicks has been a mainstay on the Cardinals defense. A team captain, Hicks led the team in tackles in 2019 with 150 total. A true inside linebacker, Hicks’ success at the position stems from his proficiency in all areas of linebacker play. As his stats suggest, Hicks possesses a brilliant instinct for the ball, reading opposing plays and positioning himself well to be effective against any play. A strong run defender and open field tackler, the former Texas alum has repeatedly shown ability to play pass coverage.
Unfortunately, Hicks’ talent across the board comes at a cost. A jack of all trades, to say Jordan Hicks is a master of none is unnecessarily harsh. However, Hicks recorded lower tackling numbers in 2o20 than in his first season with Arizona. Perhaps even more notable is the fact that Hicks also failed to record a sack. With the addition of Isaiah Simmons as a potential eraser at the second level, the Cardinals can perhaps afford some more downhill aggression than Hicks currently offers. Jordan Hicks is, however, an NFL quality talent at linebacker and will more than likely start for Arizona in 2020.
Arizona’s Draft Strategy
Jordan Hicks is a solid starting linebacker. Inside linebacker is, however, not an absolute need for the Arizona Cardinals in 2021. Although De’Vondre Campbell is likely to depart in free agency, the team has more depth at the position than some others. However, picking 16th in the draft means that the Cardinals’ draft strategy is wholly at the mercy of the previous 15 picks. Namely, solving the team’s major need at cornerback via the draft could be jeopardized by others, such as the Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys, who are also projected to selected cornerbacks in the draft.
Simply put, the Cardinals will likely target cornerback first. Conversely, as Bucky Brooks boldly predicted, they could take a wide receiver in the first round, depending on the talent available. The top three cornerback talents in the first round are set. However, there is an apparent gulf in talent between the three top prospects and the rest of the class. Therefore, there’s no guarantee that any first round talent will make it to 16. Similarly, although Bucky Brooks predicted that Heisman winner DeVonta Smith would slide to Arizona, most mock drafts have the former Alabama star going much further up the draft.
For Arizona, the priority at 16 is cornerback or wide receiver. However, in a class where first round talent is sparing in both, the top prospects could be gone. Unless Arizona chooses to move in the draft, their selection at 16 might come down to the best player available. At inside linebacker, that would be Penn State product Micah Parsons.
Micah Parsons Player Breakdown
Although he opted out of the 2020 season, Micah Parsons’ prior two seasons at Penn State maintained his status as the top prospect at inside linebacker in 2021. A dynamic downhill player, Parsons has the potential to be a difference maker at the NFL level.
Speed and aggression are what best characterize the former Nittany Lion. A former defensive end coming out of high school, Parsons’ blitzing threat is an upgrade on the scrape-and-fill style offered by Jordan Hicks. Parsons’ unique blend of aggression coupled with game-breaking speed and phenomenal play recognition made him a constant presence in Big Ten backfields. Sharp and agile, his abilities allow for an ultra-aggressive attack on defense; sideline-to-sideline speed compliments Parsons’ instincts for the football. He has demonstrated an ability to transition fluidly between pass rusher, run stuffer, and pursuit player within a single play. This ensures his potential to be a playmaker on every down. This also teases his capabilities in pass coverage, with his speed allowing for comfort dropping back into the open field
With Micah Parsons, Arizona would get a high-risk, high-reward style of player. Jordan Hicks’ safer, more conventional play doesn’t offer this. The addition of Isaiah Simmons last year, with the eraser tag that came with his experience as a defensive back at Clemson, could afford the Cardinals the chance to pair him with a violent downhill player like Micah Parsons. This style of downhill play could also help to mask some of the Cardinals frailties on the the defensive line. Parsons has dynamic playmaking potential than Arizona would get reinforcing their linemen.
In Vance Joseph’s defense, Parsons is a cultural match. Schematically, transitioning from Penn State’s 4-3 to Arizona’s 3-4 is a notable speedbump. Various scouts fit him better with a base 4-3 team in the NFL. However, such is Parsons’ pure talent, that he could easily become the Cardinals tackling machine from the second level. He also offers versatility in terms of blitz packages and overall defensive looks.
Parsons to the Cardinals
With several mocks projecting Parsons to the New England Patriots at 15, he might not even get to Arizona. However, Parsons has drawn comparisons to former All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly. Micah Parsons has generational potential. Should the Cardinals have the opportunity to draft him, it is a move that the front office should seriously consider.
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