When I heard the Cardinals signed LB De’Vondre Campbell I was immediately jumping for joy.
First of all, ‘How’bout these Cardinals!!!”
We have never had a free agency period like this—-from the Hopkins trade to the signing of three defensive starters all heading into their prime—-the Cardinals are a team on a mission.
Picture, if you will, the right side of the Cardinals defense—-with 6-6, 343 Jordan Phillips and RDE, 6-5 255 All Pro OLB Chandler Jones, with 6-4, 234 WILB De’Vondre Campbell lined up and ready to roll right behind them. These cats have length, they can move and they can close on the ball in a hurry.
Here are Campbell’s Combine numbers next to two other players of relatively equal size. Can you determine who the other two players are?
Campbell: 6-4, 234, 33 5/8 arms, 9 5/8 hands, 4.58 40, 34” VJ, 116” BJ, Fort Myers, FL
Player A: 6-4, 238, 33 3/8 arms, 9 3/8 hands, 4.39, 39” VJ, 132” BJ, Olathe, KS
Player B: 6-3, 238, 33 5/8 arms, 10 1/8 hands, 4.73, 29.5” VJ, 114” BJ, Spring Valley, CA
The answers will come later in the article.
But the main reason why bells went off in my head when I heard the Cardinals signed De’Vondre Campbell was the immediate fascination I had with the Falcons’ 2016 Draft class:
Rd. 1—-Keanu Neal, S, Florida
Rd. 2—-Deion Jones, LB, LSU
Rd. 3—-Austin Hooper, TE, Stanford
Rd. 4—-De’Vondre Campbell, LB, Minnesota
Plus—-knowing the Cardinals after the draft in 2016 were trying very aggressively to sign UCFA Brain Poole, CB, Florida, I was very envious when the Falcons signed him to join their grand slam of a 2016 draft class.
My envy of the Falcons grew to a pitch during their 2017 Super Bowl run—-and watching the sheer speed of their young defense for three quarters stifling QB Tom Brady and the Patriots’ high-powered offense. During that Super Bowl game, I thought De’Vondre Campbell and Brian Poole played exceptionally well, especially for 2nd year players, playing under the brightest of lights. They each had 4 tackles and were playing quick to the ball, both versus the run and in pass coverage.
That is when I made the mental note that if De’Vondre Campbell and Brian Poole ever became free agents, I was hoping the Cardinals would pounce on them. I did not get my wish when Brian Poole re-signed with the Jets on a 1 year $5M contract, Dang. As you might recall from my off-season mocks, I wanted the Cardinals to sign Poole to a 3 year $20M contract.
Maybe in 2021? I hope.
But, man, when I heard the Cardinals pounced on De’Vondre Campbell, I was elated.
The reason why I didn’t include Campbell in my off-season mocks is that I have always considered him a 43 WOLB.
And I think that is part of the reason why the Cardinals signed Campbell on a 1 year prove -it deal (which I am guessing carries a base salary in the $5M range and is loaded with incentives that could hike it up to $8.5M). The Cardinals need to know that Campbell can successfully transition from 43 OLB into the role of 34 WILB.
And then it dawned on me...
Here we have been drooling at the prospects of acquiring UFA Cory Littleton or (by some draft miracle) Isaiah Simmons to be the long-sought answer at WILB—-and when one looks at how De’Vondre Campbell matches up physically with Littleton (Player B) and Simmons (Player A)—-Campbell is very much cut from a similar cloth. In fact, he is faster and an inch taller than Littleton. But, Littleton has played the WILB position for 4 years in the Rams’ 34, while Campbell has played 43 OLB and nickel LB for 4 years with the Falcons.
What the Cardinals are getting in De’Vondre Campbell is a long, fast, rangy and aggressive defender who, as a tackler, is a bona fide spiderman. Just watch the way he wraps his sticky arms around his tackles and once he gets his arms and hands secured he’s like a Venus fly trap.
Campbell is highly versatile—-he’s a 3 down LB who has upside as a pass passer—-which Vance Joseph is apt to take more advantage of than the Falcons did—-if you watch him rush the passer, his all-out, whirly-bird style has similar optics to Chandler Jones’.
Campbell has struggled in pass coverage the past two years—-some of that is because the Falcons’ defense the past two years has been ravaged by injuries and so often, particularly in zones, success versus the passing game requires strong teamwork and communication.
You might recall that CB Robert Alford had his worst PFF grades of his career while trying to play injured on his depleted Falcons’ defense in 2017. Alford said, and he is correct, that when a defense loses a number of starters—-in trying to pick up the slack the remaining starters he starts to press and try to do too much in covering for others.
Campbell insists that he can cover any TE man to man. Former teammate Maxx Williams agrees with him. But—-Campbell needs to play for a team that plays mostly man coverage—-and guess what—-that’s the plan for the 2020 Cardinals.
Now—-in the 34 base, Campbell will be asked to cover RBs far more often than TEs. Typically teams have the SS cover the TE. This is why many of us have been hoping that, on Day 2, the Cardinals select one of the 2 highly touted cover safeties in the upcoming draft in Kyle Dugger (6-2, 217, 4.49, 42” V, 134” B, Lenoir-Rhyne) or Jeremy Chinn (6-3, 221, 4.45, 41” V, 138” B, Southern Illinois).
The biggest challenge Campbell will have in Vance Jospeh’s defense when the TE is to his side is the very thing that Haason Reddick and Joe Walker struggled most with—-having to read the run first and then, upon seeing the play is a pass, having to drop instantly back to the hook/seam zone to cover the TE.
In all fairness—-aside from the Luke Keuchlys of the world, being that quick to diagnose the run or pass and then quickly shuffle diagonally back to the hook zone before a TE can get there is almost humanly impossible. This is why some DCs have their edge player jam the TE on the snap in order to give the ILB a chance. Didn’t see much of Joseph’s edges jamming down on TEs.
But, at 6-4, 234, with 4.57 speed and a prodigious wingspan, if the Cardinals want to groom Campbell to play man to man coverage on TEs, he could be a viable option, if necessary.
When one goes back to look at De’Vondre Campbell’s PFF grades in 2017 when the Falcons’ defense was healthy and helping the team mount a Super Bowl charge—-here is what they looked like:
Overall: 69.1—-vs. run: 63.4—-tackling: 86.3—-pass rush: 71.9—-pass coverage: 68.2 (44/63, 69.8%, 411 yards and 1 TD—-which amounted to 2.7 catches a game for 26 yards a game).
Conversely, this past season, his PFF grades suffered:
Overall: 50.1—-vs. run: 62.5—-tackling: 82.7—-pass rush: 55.2—-pass coverage: 41.1 (58/64, 84.1%, 612 yds, 4 TDs—-an average of 4.8 catches a game for 50 yards and 1 TD every 4 games).
As we saw this past season, Jordan Hicks struggled in pass coverage—-primarily because of the Cardinals’ shoddy zone coverage. He gave up 71 catches on 81 targets for 87.7%, 824 yds. (11.6 ave.) and 5 TDs. PFF coverage grade of 53.8.
But—-this is the 1st year in Hicks’ career that he struggled in coverage. Look at his coverage grades: 2015—-84.6; 2016—-91.1; 2017—-71.7; 2018—-78.1.
I mention this because, as I stated earlier, coverage grades, particularly for teams who play a lot of zone coverages, are so dependent on the strength of teamwork and communication. We saw so little of teamwork and communication from the Cardinals’ pass coverages last year. The Falcons were having some of the same problems.
Because the Cardinals will likely be playing a more steady diet of man coverage, which Vance Jospeh prefers, it should be interesting to see what Jordan Hicks’ and De’Vondre Campbell’s coverage grades are in 2020 with a stronger defense around them and playing in a more aggressive scheme. Both have earned good coverage grades before which means they have the ability to do so again.
Corey Littleton had a coverage grade of 82.3 last year—-but he had a much stronger cast around him as the Rams were 12th best team in the league in pass overage. The Falcons were 21st and the Cardinals were 31st.
It’s not a given that Isaiah Simmons is going to be able to come right into the NFL and dominate in pass coverage. Pass coverage is so nuanced the NFL—-it takes time, tons of reps, technique work, good coaching and a strong supporting cast.
Take a good look at De’Vondre Campbell’s abilities in this highlight video.
Even if all Campbell gives the Cardinals is a significant upgrade in tackling (tackling grades consistently every year in the 80s)—-and tackling is often contagious—-this is a very good addition. But if you saw the video you might have been very encouraged by what you saw of him in pass coverage. I think the sky is the limit for Campbell. I think he’s mmm mmm good.
btw—-one of the songs on the video is by A Boogie wid a Hoodie!!!