Getty Images Trevon Diggs on the field before a game in 2021.
It’s NFL draft season, as the Arizona Cardinals will select in the first round with their 23rd overall pick on April 28, which is just 10 days away.
The Cardinals selected inside linebackers in the first round of the last two NFL drafts: Isaiah Simmons in 2020 and Zaven Collins in 2021. While Simmons had 105 tackles in his second season, both dealt with rookie struggles. Simmons and Collins had fewer than 60 tackles in their rookie seasons. There were even points where they both watched a sizable amount of snaps on the sidelines.
In February, the ESPN team beat reporters to the first two rounds of the 2021 draft class, which included the Cardinals. After watching Collins’ 25-tackle rookie season, Cardinals ESPN reporter Josh Weinfuss selected Pittsburgh Steelers running back Najee Harris with the 16th overall pick. In fact, ESPN reporters didn’t draft Collins in the first two rounds.
Another draft has been grown, but this time for the previous year.
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Cardinals Snatch Pro Bowl Defender
Alex Ballentine of Bleacher Report prepared a redaction of the 2020 NFL draft class. The Cardinals originally selected Simmons with their eighth overall pick, but Ballentine had the team select cornerback Trevon Diggs from Alabama. Diggs was originally selected in the second round by the Dallas Cowboys with the 51st overall pick.
Ballentine describes Diggs as a “boom or bust” but credits his playing style for becoming a first-team All-Pro in 2022.
“Diggs is the definition of boom or bust from week to week,” Ballentine said. “After intercepting three passes and defending 14 more as a rookie, he put up a league-leading 11 interceptions and 21 passes defensed in 2021. All that ball production comes at a cost, though. He also allowed 907 yards and four touchdowns when he was attacked.”
Diggs defended 22 passes in 2021, second in the league. Dating back to Diggs’ college tenure, he ranked second among SEC cornerbacks in individual coverage with an 89.3 PFF rating since 2014.
He is also the brother of All-Pro wide receiver Stefon Diggs. The 23-year-old cornerback recorded 11 interceptions in 2021, which tied the Cowboys’ single-season record for interceptions held by Everson Walls for 40 seasons.
While the Cardinals got production from outside cornerback Robert Alford in 2021, general manager Steve Keim would have a formidable young duo in Diggs and Byron Murphy. According to Ballentine, the Cardinals could have found a linebacker after their first-round pick in 2020.
“Diggs is not a direct replacement for Simmons, but the Cardinals probably would have gone with the cornerback’s turnover production and looked for a linebacker later in the draft,” Ballentine added.
Trade of players between cowboys and cardinals
We mentioned that Ballentine chose Diggs to land in Arizona. While the Cowboys originally selected wide receiver CeeDee Lamb with their 17th overall pick, their new 2020 draft has the Pro Bowl wide receiver heading to the New York Jets at the 11th pick.
As it happens, Isaiah Simmons swaps shirts with Diggs. Ballentine likes that Simmons’ safety skills are put to the test on Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s defense.
“Dan Quinn tried to turn a safety into a linebacker with Keanu Neal,” Ballentine said. “Now, he has an opportunity to recruit a linebacker with safety skills in Simmons. The Clemson star’s unique skill set hasn’t created as many welcome plays as expected, but he is showing signs of growing in potential. He started all 17 games in 2021, racking up seven passes defensed, four forced fumbles and four tackles for loss.”
The Cowboys already have 2021 Pro Bowl first-round linebacker Micah Parsons, who had 13 sacks in his rookie season. Simmons could slide into multiple positions and make plays off the line of scrimmage.
Simmons has yet to prove himself an All-Pro talent.
But with maturity, the Cardinals could see a sizeable jump from the 6-foot-4, 238-pound linebacker in 2022.
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