Part of my job as the play-by-play announcer for the Arizona Cardinals -- and a college football play-by-play man for ESPN -- is to have a good pulse on potential NFL prospects. With access to college coaches and NFL scouts, I usually have a pretty good feel for the NFL draft gossip.
I have to admit that I knew very little about current Cardinals safety Deone Bucannon coming out of Washington State. The Cougars were not a very good program at the time, so they weren't often on television. Plus, Bucannon wasn't highly recruited coming from Fairfield, California, so he was a late bloomer in terms of national attention. Bucannon put up gaudy numbers in college, but still most people
didn't seem to notice. Even when he was named All-Pac-12, and eventually All-America, most didn't know who he was. It wasn't until the NFL combine, where we in the media began to pay attention.
Thankfully, the Arizona Cardinals were fans of Bucannon long before he began to make headlines. Many thought the Cardinals reached when they selected him late in the first round of the 2014 draft. The Cardinals had looked at trading up, and had their sights set on some other players. When some of their potential targets were off the board, they felt their best option was to trade down, grab an additional draft pick in the deal, while still selecting a good player.
Even though draft projections had Bucannon going in the second round, the Cardinals saw something more. The Cardinals decided to move down, and selected Bucannon with the 27th pick. The morning after the draft, a member of the Cardinals' front office sent me a text with two video clips from Bucannon at Washington State, which gave me a great feel for the type of player they were getting. I saw a guy with great speed, and a desire to thump somebody. He actually sought out contact, and when he hit, he finished. He was constantly in attack mode. I was reminded of Adrian Wilson when he was coming out of North Carolina State. Wilson was a ferocious player, and Bucannon showed flashes that he could be that type of competitor.
Now, In year two as an NFL player, Bucannon leads the team in total tackles, plus the sub-category of tackles-for-loss. Some feel that Bucannon is doing this while playing out of position, as a natural safety forced to play a position called "dollar linebacker." Bucannon, who has the size and speed of a safety, is asked to play exclusively in the "box" basically as a linebacker.
Some safeties don't play in the "box" at all, but most safeties are asked to play deep and cover. Bucannon's role is different. However, this might be the position Bucannon was born to play. He may never be a traditional safety that has to tackle and cover. But he's great at the position he's asked to play. His uniqueness has given the Cardinals a replacement for Daryl Washington, who was a terrific athlete at the linebacker position. Deone is coming off his best game as a pro, and as he gets more and more comfortable in his role, the more dangerous he becomes.
All NFL players have to think, but the best ones play on instinct. Knowing where you have to be and being able to get there are two different things. Bucannon is coming into his own in this regard, and Cardinals fans are starting to see this bear fruit on Sundays.