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Isaiah Simmons Heads Into Crucial Fourth Season

Linebacker/Defensive back spent most time in secondary in 2022

Isaiah Simmons (9) chases down 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy for a sack in the 2022 season finale.
Isaiah Simmons (9) chases down 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy for a sack in the 2022 season finale.

J.J. Watt was chasing Brock Purdy for what would've been a second sack against the 49ers quarterback, but Purdy had too much of a lead as he scrambled left.

Purdy had a lead on Isaiah Simmons too. But Simmons' speed and stride quickly made that moot as the linebacker/starbacker/safety/cornerback dragged Purdy to the turf.

It was a glimpse – of which there were many in 2022 – of Simmons' athleticism, talent and versatility, a taste of the player they hope he can become.

"He's going to grow," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. "Imagine what he was last year and what he became this year. Fast forward to next year, hopefully it's twice as good."

The Simmons story will be one of the more fascinating tales of the coming season. Perhaps Joseph will get the vacant head coaching job, and then it's likely Simmons continues to be deployed as he has been. If not – if the Cardinals bring in a new staff, and the majority of candidates right now are from the defensive side of the ball – perhaps his role will look different.

At the end of the season, Simmons said he wasn't thinking about the future. As for the recent past, it was a journey, from struggles Week 1 against the Chiefs to his highlight pick-6 against the Saints and everything in between.

At one point, he was seen on an episode of "Hard Knocks," clearly frustrated and trying to figure out how to take the next step in his development. By season's end, Simmons felt headed in the right direction.

"My maturity has grown and I feel like I have become more of a student of the game," Simmons said. "Things have slowed down. Really those are the main things. Nothing really changed from the first game with what I've done. That was the first game, I didn't (play) a preseason game. Nothing really changed, I just believed in myself."

The Cardinals have believed in Simmons too, although new general manager Monti Ossenfort will have a front-burner decision other than picking a coach or free agency or what to do with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft.

He also has to decide if he exercises Simmons' fifth-year option – for the 2024 season – by May. Overthecap.com estimates that would be $11.3 million, fully guaranteed.

The Cardinals exercised the fifth-year option on Kyler Murray last season, but before that Josh Rosen was traded before having to make a decision, and the team did not use it on Haason Reddick, who left after his fourth season as a free agent.

What do the Cardinals have? They have an athletic freak who can make splash plays, one who finished with 99 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions, five tackles for loss, seven passes defensed, two forced fumbles (including the one leading the Byron Murphy's overtime TD return in Las Vegas) and a fumble recovery.

They have a player who continues to be all over the field, literally. According to Pro Football Focus, Simmons had 409 defensive snaps as the slot cornerback this season, 297 as a box defender, 110 on the defensive line, 28 as a wide cornerback and 53 – as a starter after Budda Baker got hurt – at free safety.

"That's why he was drafted," Joseph said. "He doesn't have one (position). He's a hybrid and that's OK. His numbers speak to it, his intelligence speaks to it. What he does on Sundays gives teams fits."

That upward trend is important as he seeks the consistency that will push him to the next level.

"I'm a three-star guy from Kansas who never got no shine or notoriety," Simmons said. "That kind of (criticism), it's not something I am used to. It's easy for me to let that go. It doesn't mean anything. It doesn't make me a better player, it doesn't make me a worse player. I know who I am."

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