Player: Haason Reddick
NFL Draft: 1st round, 13th overall pick
Pick rationale: Of all the top-notch defensive prospects on the board when the Cardinals found themselves on the clock with the 13th overall pick, perhaps no player possessed the same type of versatility and schematic flexibility that Reddick brings to the table. Since they were hired to lead the Cardinals in 2013, general manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians have attempted to build the Cardinals’ defense around hybrid defenders like Tyrann Mathieu, Deone Bucannon and even Chandler Jones, who all have the capability to line up in different spots on the field and challenge opponents’ pre-snap conceptions of how Arizona will play defensively.
Even though Alabama’s Jonathan Allen, Ohio State’s Malik Hooker and a slew of potential immediate-impact cornerbacks were still on the board when the Cardinals were on the clock, Arizona opted to take Reddick because it fell in love with his quick-twitch athleticism and impressive character that could help him develop into one of the most versatile pieces on the Cardinals’ defense.
When the Cardinals chose Reddick, they didn’t do so with a narrowly-focused approach. While some teams likely looked at Reddick exclusively as an edge rusher or as a 3-4 Will linebacker, the Cardinals looked at Reddick as a defensive weapon who could be deployed in various manners depending on what the team needs in a given situation and how Reddick grows and develops early in his career.
“We’ve talked about what we’ve tried to do before with our defense which is build hybrid players who schematically fit in different spots,” Keim said. “This guy (Reddick) can play inside, he can play outside. He’s 6-foot-2, 245 pounds, he ran a sub 4.5 (40-yard dash), he’s explosive, he’s got a great first step. He went to the Senior Bowl as I talked about in the pre-draft press conference, and never seen a guy who could take his hand off the ground and play stacked linebacker with that kind of vision and instincts and play speed and cover like he did with very little experience.”
Outside of his versatility, one of the main reasons the Cardinals likely drafted Reddick is because they’re confident that regardless of how quickly he picks up NFL concepts, he’ll likely be able to help the team immediately on third downs. Arizona already has a pair of the league’s best outside linebackers in Jones and Markus Golden, but Reddick is the type of player who could sub in for inside linebacker Karlos Dansby in third and medium or third and long situations and either drop back into a zone over the middle or aid the team’s pass rush as an extra asset. After essentially redshirting each of the team’s last two first round draft picks –D.J. Humphries and Robert Nkemdiche–Arizona likely wanted a player who could make a difference right away, and that’s why selecting Reddick made sense.
The ceiling: When the Cardinals look at Reddick, they see a rare type of explosiveness very few players with his size and physicality possess in the NFL. Only elites like Von Miller can rush off the edge with such an impressive combination of power and speed while still maintaining a disciplined approach. If Reddick is able to reach his ceiling, the sky is the limit for a player who has as much potential as any front seven defensive player in this year’s draft, save for Myles Garrett. Whether he ultimately grows into a role as a sideline-to-sideline inside linebacker likely depends on how Reddick takes to the coverage aspect of the position, because he won’t become a true three-down linebacker until he proves he can move backward and laterally as well as he moves forward. Still, with as much speed and agility as Reddick has, the Cardinals believe there’s certainly potential for growth as an inside linebacker, as evidenced by Keim’s comments regarding Reddick’s Senior Bowl performance. The other possibility for Reddick is that he adds a bit of bulk to his frame and becomes an edge rusher, impacting the quarterback in the same way Jones and Golden do. Though we think the Cardinals will attempt to show him the ropes first as an inside linebacker, they also wanted Bucannon to be a safety, and he’s thrived during his career at inside linebacker.
The floor: The primary concern regarding Reddick’s NFL future is where the Cardinals’ organization sees a two-for-one player with the potential to excel at either inside or outside linebacker, skeptics will see a ‘tweener who isn’t ready to handle the rigors of inside linebacker and is still a bit too slight to succeed as a pass rusher at the next level. If Reddick struggles with key reads or processing movements at the line of scrimmage as an inside linebacker, it’s entirely possible he never becomes more than a sub-package player in the NFL. Reddick could spend his career caught in between positions, especially if covering backs and tight ends proves too challenging for someone who demonstrated a decent ability to drop into zones at the college level, but was rarely stressed vertically or asked to chase receivers laterally across the field.
Reddick’s immediate fit: With a pair of the league’s best edge rushers already in the fold and an inside linebacker corps that’s thin on depth, Arizona will likely attempt to have Reddick serve as Dansby’s backup at the Mike linebacker position during his rookie season while earning a role as a sub-package defender on third downs. Whether Reddick plays as an edge rusher on third downs or helps the team in a variety of ways from the Mike position, it’s unlikely he’s the type of player who would find himself in immediate contention to start because he’ll be learning so many new techniques and the learning curve should be fairly steep early in his career. Reddick can certainly help the Cardinals in year one, but if this pick is going to pan out over the long haul, he’ll likely need to prove he can play the Mike or Will position effectively and add to a range of skills that was somewhat limited by his on-field responsibilities in college.