De'Vondre Campbell was the Cardinals' top-rated linebacker on their free-agent board, if not their top target altogether.
The team desperately needed help at inside linebacker. Campbell was going to be that guy.
Two games into the season, months after future inside linebacker Isaiah Simmons fell into their lap in the draft, Campbell is still that guy. An argument can be made he's been the MVP of the defense. Kliff Kingsbury didn't even ponder long the question of where Campbell has made an impact.
"Really," Kingsbury asked rhetorically, "where hasn't he?"
The veteran dominated against Washington Sunday, finishing with 10 total tackles, two tackles for loss and two passes defensed.
"He was all over the field yesterday, whether it's the run game or the pass breakups, I mean he was everywhere," Kingsbury said. "He's got great length, he's got great instincts, and he's a matchup with any tight end in the league, and we have some great ones we go against. I think he's been kind of an X-factor so far."
It's Campbell's pass defense that has stood out the most, covering running backs and tight ends in a way his unit was not able to a season ago.
Tight ends were an Achilles heel for the Cards a season ago, a reason the Cards went on the hunt for Campbell. An tangible example comes Sunday, when the Lions and T.J. Hockenson visit. It was Hockenson who first drove home the Cardinals' issues a year ago, when he shredded them for six catches, 131 yards and a touchdown in the regular-season opener. (Hockenson, a rookie in 2019, only had 26 catches for 236 yards and one more touchdown the rest of the season.)
The 6-foot-3, 232-pound Campbell has been able to hold up inside the front seven as well as blanket a wheel route.
"I've always kind of pride myself in being multi-dimensional," Campbell said. "I feel like I can rush, cover and play behind the ball. That's something I've always kind of taken pride in throughout the course of my football career. Some people are surprised (I can cover) considering I am a bigger guy, because I can run with tight ends, wide receivers and running backs. It kind of surprises a lot of people. But it never surprises me because I know what I'm capable of."
In short, Campbell is everything the Cardinals are hoping the 6-4, 230-pound Simmons can be.
Simmons is off to a slow start, with only 25 snaps in the first two games. But Kingsbury said the role of Campbell – who was signed a month before Simmons was drafted – never really morphed even after Simmons was taken.
The reality is that Campbell's play early give the Cardinals much more leeway in which to deal with Simmons' learning curve.
"Him and Jordan Hicks are great guys for (Simmons) to learn behind and figure things out, as he kind of builds not having an offseason and he can learn throughout the season," Kingsbury said.
Campbell has praised Simmons extensively, making for a good mentor even though Campbell, playing on a one-year deal, could in theory be supplanted by Simmons next season. That's the kind of person the Cards have also gotten in their locker room.
"Great man off the field, and on the field he's a heck of a leader," said defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, who bonded with Campbell as fellow free agents during training camp. "He's vocal, he makes plays, he's passionate. He's a great guy to have in your linebacker corps."
LEONARD SIGNED TO PRACTICE SQUAD
The Cardinals added offensive lineman Rick Leonard to the practice squad Tuesday. Leonard spent time with the Cards on the practice squad in 2018 and spent last season with the Texans before being released earlier this month.
Images of the Cardinals cheerleaders during the Week 2 matchup against Washington.