clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2023 Cardinals Defense Has Plenty of Athletic Upside

JG and Nick Rallis have the talent to prove the NFL pundits wrong about Cardinals having worst roster

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Background: GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 25: Russell Gage #17 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is tackled by Isaiah Simmons #9 and Zaven Collins #25 of the Arizona Cardinals during the 3rd quarter of the game at State Farm Stadium on December 25, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images.

Here are the results of the recent poll that was posed to the ROTB members concerning the Cardinals’ talent on defense:

Do you think the Cardinals’ talent might be a tad under-rated?

  • 24% —- Yes —- (44 votes)
  • 27% —- I’m starting to think yes, maybe —- (49 votes)
  • 29% —- No, they have too many holes —- (53 votes)
  • 19% —- No, pundits are correct, they have the worst roster in the NFL —- (35 votes)

181 votes total

51% of the voters believe the Cardinals’ defensive talent is under-rated. 49% of the voters disagree.

I am wondering whether a detailed explanation as to why some fans like myself feel confident and/or reasonably optimistic about the Cardinals’ talent can change some people’s perspectives —- which is why —- at the end of the article I am going to post a similar poll question.

First of all —- we need to acknowledge how poorly coached the returning players were.

For example, take a look at how the previous coaches handled their highest draft pick on defense in consensus 2019 All-American, 2019 Butkis Award winner and 2018 National Champion Isaiah Simmons —- who was, without question, the most supremely versatile defender in the 2020 draft.

Coaching concerns regarding Isaiah Simmons:

  • Coaches didn’t seem to have a firm sense of where to play Isaiah.
  • In his 1st game, they assigned him to play man coverage on 49ers 4.38 speedy RB Raheem Mostert on a circle route without having any safety help over the middle. Isaiah took a false step thinking that Mostert might break to the outside and was beaten over the middle to the tune of a long TD. After that play —- a play where the coaches gave Isaiah no help —- he gets yanked and benched —- not just for that game, but for several games afterward.
  • In 2021 just two games after Isaiah helped to lead the Cardinals to an exciting upset win over the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, making one of the more athletic QB sacks this Cardinals’ fan has ever seen, with the Cardinals now playing in their first playoff game since 2015, the coaches decide it would be a good time to bench Isaiah —- and 2021 1st round pick Zaven Collins.
  • In 2022, still not sure of where to play Isaiah, the coaches switch him to a hybrid LB/ slot CB, where he rarely was asked to cover the same receiver —- but instead ask him to cover a RB one play, a WR the next and a TE the next play after that. All this while being asked to key the run first.

It is the ultimate job of defensive coaches to, as they say, “put the players in a position to succeed” so as to boost their confidence. The previous defensive coaches neither put the players in a position to succeed nearly often enough, nor did they build the younger players’ confidence.

Out with old —- in with the new:

The good news about Isaiah Simmons this year is that JG and Nick Rallis have given Isaiah a specific role that they are asking him to master, before they put anything else on his plate. Right now we only know that Simmons’ role will occur somewhere in the secondary. What that specific role is has yet to be determined.

Imagine what the Cardinals’ defense will begin to look like when Isaiah Simmons is playing with new-found energy, explosiveness and confidence.

JG and Nich Rallis identified on last year’s game tapes how dominant-looking at times Zaven Collins was playing the edge —- so they have moved him there. Collins at 6-4, 260 is an athletic dynamo. Here is what Lance Zielein of wrote about Collins as a draft prospects:

Collins was a quarterback and first-team all-state defender at Hominy High School in Oklahoma, leading his team to a Class A state title his senior season. He redshirted his first year on campus at Tulsa, playing tight end on the scout team. The next season, he stepped in as a starter for 10 games due to injuries at linebacker and wound up garnering Freshman All-American honors (85 tackles, 9.5 for loss, with 1.5 sacks, one interception and three pass breakups in 12 appearances). Collins was a second-team All-American Athletic Conference selection as a sophomore, starting all 12 contests and posting 106 tackles, 9.5 for loss, with two sacks and three pass breakups. He mopped up on the awards circuit after a spectacular junior campaign, winning the Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik Awards as the nation’s best defender, as well as first-team Associated Press All-American and AAC Defensive Player of the Year honors. Collins stuffed the sheet with 53 tackles, a team-high 11.5 for loss, with four sacks, four interceptions, two pass breakups and a blocked kick in eight starts. He returned two of his picks for touchdowns, including a 96-yard game-winner against Tulane in overtime.

On the edge, Zaven Collins looks to me like he is a cross between former Steeler All-Pros LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison. Collins possesses Woodley’s 4.6 speed at 6-4, 265 and Harrison’s brute strength.

Prediction: if JG and Nick Rallis get premier production and noticeably improved confidence from Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins, then this defense is going too be way better than the pundits think. Their leadership could be the catalyst to changing the whole defensive dynamic in Arizona.

Roles and Players’ best grades to date:

Defensive Tackles::

  • Rashard Lawrence (6-2, 308, 4, 73.6 tackling grade in 2021 on 10 solo tackles and 2 assists),
  • Carlos Watkins (6-3, 305, 7 —- 70.8 tackling grade for DAL in 2021 totaling a career high 21 solo tackles and 11 assists).
  • Kevin Strong (6-4, 300, 65.6 tackling grade in 2022 on 17 tackles and 6 assists),
  • Dante Stills (6-4, 280, R, 90.2 PFF grade in run defense in 2022, plus 15 sacks and 48 QB career pressures at West Virginia).
  • Jacob Slade (6-4, 314, R, had 76.6 run defense grade with Michigan 8 games last season with 20 tackles, 0.5 sacks, and in 2021 an 86.1 overall grade in 13 game with 40 tackles and 2.5 sacks).

Note: It’s reasonable to believe that MODS will add depth to the DT position via late signed free agents and/or waiver wire claims.


  • Leki Fotu (6-5, 335, 4) —- can JG/NR uncap his potential? —- had 31 combined tackles in 2022).
  • Jonathan Ledbetter (6-4, 282, 3, had 21 tackles and 1 sack in 2022).

Edge Players:

  • Zaven Collins (6-4, 260, 3, 65.5 pass rush grade in 2022 on 2 sacks and 16 QB pressures).
  • Dennis Gardeck (6-0, 232, 6, in 2020 had an 84.4 pass rushing grade on 7 sacks and 18 hurries and overall defensive grade of 89.6).
  • Cameron Thomas (6-4, 267, 2, as a rookie had 80.1 tackling grade on 16 tackles and 70.6 pass rushing grade on 3 sacks and 19 pressures).
  • Myjai Sanders (6-5, 248, 2, as a rookie had 62.9 pass rush grade with 3 sacks and pressures).
  • L.J. Collier (6-2, 291, 5, in 2020 at SEA, he had 69.4 tackling grade on 22 tackles, plus a 63.6 pass rush grade on 3 sacks and 23 pressures).
  • Victor Dimukeje (6-2, 265, 3, 61.7 tackling grade on 12 tackles in 2022).
  • Jesse Luketa (6-1, 253, 2, as a rookie in very limited snaps he had 70.1 pass rushing grade on 2 hurries).
  • B.J. Ojulari (6-3, 250, R, had an 83.0 pass rushing grade in 2022 on 5.5 sacks and 26 hurries, plus a 70.3 run defense grade on 58 tackles).

Inside Linebackers:

  • Kyzir White (6-2, 234, 5, had a career high 67.2 overall grade in 2022 with 110 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 51 stops and 66.4 pass coverage grade).
  • Krys Barnes (6-2, 229, 4, in 2020 with GB he had 75.4 tackling grade with 71 solo tackles and 89 tackles combined).
  • Josh Woods (6-1, 230, 5, in 2021 with DET had a 63.9 run defensive grade with 20 solo tackles and 2 assists, plus last season had a team high 90.9 special teams grade on 14 tackles).
  • Ezekiel Turner (6-2, 214, 6, last season had 93.0 run defense grade on 16 tackles and a 79..7 special teams grade on 8 tackles).
  • Owen Pappoe (6-0, 225, R, had 59.5 run defense grade on 91 tackles, 51 solo, with a 77.2 pass coverage grade).
  • Kyle Soelle (6-4, 235, R, last season with Arizona St. he had 110 tackles which was #1 in the Pac-12).


  • Antonio Hamilton (6-0, 195, 8, had a career high 69.4 pass coverage grade in 2022).
  • Marco Wilson (6-0, 191, 3, had a 61.9 pass coverage grade in 2022 with 3 interceptions and 7 pass breakups).
  • Rashad Fenton (5-10, 193, 5, his noteworthy pass coverage grades in KC improved each year going from 74.4 to 74.6 to 77.3, same with his stellar tackling grades of 86.2 to 87.8 to 90.5 before having a down year in ATL after being traded).
  • Christian Matthew (6-2, 195, 2, had a team high 83.2 run defense grade as a rookie in 2022 with 20 tackles).
  • Kris Boyd (5-11, 195, 5, used mostly as a STs player in MIN, with 39 snaps on defense in 2022 he had an overall grade of 63.6, a run defense grade of 61.5 and pass coverage grade of 63.2).
  • Nate Hairston (6-0, 185, 6, his 2021 grades in 148 snaps with DEN were 73.3 overall, 71.7 tackling and 76.0 in pass coverage).
  • Garrett Williams (6-0, 189, R, had a 72.1 pass coverage grade in 7 games with Syracuse in 2022, giving up only 36 yards per game, allowing only 1 TD and plucking 2 interceptions).
  • Kei’Trel Clark (5-10, 179, R, his grades at Louisville dropped some each of his last three seasons, going from 73.0 to 68.1 to 57.2, Finished his career with 167 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 5 interceptions, 28 pass breakups and 1 TD).


  • Budda Baker (5-10, 195, 7, graded 73.7 overall, 80.2 in run defense with 110 tackles and 69.1 in pass coverage with 2 interceptions and 3 pass breakups, earning his 5th Pro Bowl invitation in 6 seasons).
  • Jalen Thompson (5-11, 190, 5, in 2022 with his 109 tackles, had the highest tackling grade of his career at 90.3 and need to improve on his 59.7 pass coverage grade which in his three previous seasons were 70.3, 68.4 and 71.8 respectively).
  • Isaiah Simmons (6-4, 238, 4, in 2022 had an overall grade of 67.9, a tackling grade of 63.0 with 91 tackles, a pass coverage grade of 69.9 and a career high pass rushing grade of 83.5 with 4 sacks and 9 pressures).
  • Andre Chachere (6-0, 200, 3 in 11 defensive snaps last year he had a 75.8 tackling grade and a 45.4 pass coverage grade from the slot).
  • Javonte Moffatt (6-0, 210, did not play in 2022 and was waived by ATL,, but his highest grade with CLE in 2021 was his 64.9 tackling grade with 7 tackles and his pass coverage grade was 62.7).
  • Kendell Brooks (6-0, 200, R, at Michigan St. last season he had 100 tackles which was #5 among all defenders in the Big Ten and 3 forced fumbles, #2 in the Big Ten).

Draft Capital:

  • 1st Rounders: Collier (SEA-2019), Collins (ARI-2021) ,Simmons (ARI-2020)
  • 2nd Rounders: Baker (ARI-2017), Ojulari (ARI-2023)
  • 3rd Rounders: Sanders (ARI-2022) Thomas (ARI-2022), Williams (ARI-2023)
  • 4th Rounders: Fotu (ARI-2020), Lawrence (ARI-2020), Watkins (HOU-2017)), Wilson (ARI-2021)
  • 5th Rounders: Hairston (IND-2017)), Pappoe (ARI-2023), Thompson (Supp. ARI-2019)
  • 6th Round Clark (ARI-2023), Dimukeje (ARI-2021), Fenton (KC-2019), Stills (ARI-2023)
  • 7th Round: Boyd (MIN-2019), Luketa (ARI-2022), ,Mathew (ARI-2022)


As a high school teacher and coach I always tried to find my students’ greatest strength as a means in which to establish a positive starting point and as a way to facilitate a good rapport. From what I have learned about Jonathan Gannon and Nick Rallis in the way in which they talk about the players —- they share a very similar philosophy.

When I look at the defensive players on the current roster, I see not only considerable athletic talent, but strong football traits —- the type in which coaches can embrace, feel encouraged by and build on.

I believe that this year’s defense will be one of the most athletic and fastest to the ball that we have seen in Arizona —- and as soon as they get their chemistry and confidence —- we could be in for a treat, one chock-fiull of surprises.


Upon further review, do you think there is more talent on the defensive side of the roster than what you first thought?

This poll is closed

  • 61%
    (126 votes)
  • 21%
    (44 votes)
  • 17%
    (35 votes)
205 votes total Vote Now

I gathered a lot by doing a fair share of research. I hope you were able to profit from it.