It Is Time To Unleash Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons

The Arizona Cardinals drafted linebackers in the first round of back-to-back drafts. It is time to unleash them.

The Arizona Cardinals have a young nucleus in the center of their defense with Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons. Simmons was a first-round pick in the 2020 draft and Collins was a first-round pick in the 2021 draft. Both were regarded as possibly the best defenders in their respective draft classes. Veteran leadership held both Collins and Simmons back as rookies, but now the two are ready to shine.

Isaiah Simmons Role Increase

Simmons was sitting behind De’Vondre Campbell and Jordan Hicks as a rookie. Simmons saw his role increase as the season went on, making the eventual departure of Campbell imminent. Campbell’s departure left a vacated 99 tackles for the rookie swallow-up in 2021. Simmons did just that and filled the role that was left behind and then some.

The worry of Simmons as a rookie was his ability to stop the run. He was a bit leaner than the linebackers the Cardinals were currently employing. Simmons shut down that narrative real quick though with his ability to shoot gaps and react quickly. Watch here as Simmons takes down Derrick Henry on initial contact for the short gain:

What Simmons has added that Campbell never could was versatility at the position. Simmons lines up all over the field for the Cardinals. @PFF_Macri brokedown Simmons usage through the season here:

Simmons is fantastic in coverage and can stick with receivers and running backs alike. Watch here as he mirrors Aaron Jones out of the backfield and shows off great ball skills:

Simmons played just about every single snap in 2021, totaling 92.5% of the team’s defensive snaps. As a full-time player, he produced 105 total tackles, four for a loss, one and a half sacks, seven passes defended, one interception, and four forced fumbles. Simmons’ ability to force turnovers was something that the Cardinals’ defense was missing prior to his arrival.

Zaven Collens Role Increase

Collins had a similar role as a rookie that Simmons had. Collins was stuck behind both Jordan Hicks and Isaiah Simmons at the linebacker position. Many thought that, after the Cardinals selected Collins 16th overall, the Cardinals were going to release Hicks and unleash Collins and Simmons. That was not the case. Actually, far from it.

Hicks went on to have an excellent season in 2021 playing next to Simmons posting 116 total tackles and four sacks. Arizona used Hicks as a blitzing linebacker quite often having 86 and 89 blitz attempts. This led to one and a half sacks and 12 pressures during his first two seasons. In 2021, he actually blitzed only 49 times, though he accumulated a career-high in sacks and pressures with four and eight respectively.

The Cardinals released Hicks leading up to the 2022 season, paving the way for Collins. As a rookie, Collins was used sparingly, only seeing 220 total snaps. If Hicks’s usage from his first two years in Arizona are any inclination of how Collins will be used, Collins may be used blitzing quite often. This is good news for him as pas rushing was a legitimate strength coming out of college.

2022 Outlook

Collins has brute strength matched with a number of pass-rushing technique moves. With his physicality, ability to rush the passer, and clog running lanes matched with Simmons’s versatility and pure athleticism, the two linebackers should be able to play next to each other harmoniously. For the past three seasons, the inside linebacker position for Arizona has been able to sustain two fantasy starters.

In 2019, the two starting inside linebackers totaled 228 tackles, in 2020 217 tackles, and in 2021 they produced 221 tackles. As a result, both Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons should be high volume and every-down snap players. Because of this, neither player should see a problem eclipsing 100 total tackles. You should fire both of these linebackers up fearlessly.

Thank you for checking out my article! Follow me on Twitter at @JoeyTheToothIDP, and check out all of my IDP, Devy, and Offensive work on my IDP Guys author page. Stay up to date with the latest breaking news in fantasy football with The IDPGuys!

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