Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Cardinals looking for hybrid defenders

Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said the organization is looking to add hybrid players, and there's some intriguing options available in this year's NFL Draft.

The Arizona Cardinals' defense has survived and thrived under head coach Bruce Arians largely because of the versatility of its personnel.

Whether the Cardinals' unit has been coordinated by New York Jets' head coach Todd Bowles or current defensive coordinator James Bettcher, Arizona has been ahead of the curve in the NFL with its ability to have hybrid defenders fill multiple roles in the team's scheme.

Two of the best hybrid defenders in the league call Arizona home, as inside linebacker Deone Bucannon and safety Tyrann Mathieu were both Cardinals' draft picks who have exceeded expectations with the organization.

Both players faced question marks entering the league, but Bucannon has found a home at inside linebacker after outgrowing the safety position he played in college while Mathieu has played all over the Cardinals' secondary and excelled as a nickel cornerback. 

Cardinals' general manager Steve Keim told NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah that the Cardinals like the idea of adding hybrid defenders to their roster because it limits the mismatches opponents can take advantage of.

"We've had some success with hybrid players at every level of the defense and to me, as you know, the big issue with the NFL in today's day and age is mismatches," Keim said.

Keim cited the versatility of Bucannon who is one of the better coverage linebackers in the league as being a key part of Arizona's defensive success in recent years and also lauded Mathieu for his ability to play closer to the line of scrimmage and handle slot receivers as a nickel cornerback.

"So if you can have a defensive lineman that can play inside and out, a linebacker who can do some things from a coverage standpoint, if you can have a safety like Tyrann Mathieu who can drop down and play nickel or play slot and do the things he does, that's extremely critical," Keim said.

On Friday, the Cardinals were linked to Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, who is expected to go in the first round of this year's draft and could be on Arizona's draft board when the organization is on the clock with the 13th overall pick.

Peppers is touted as one of the best hybrid defensive prospects in this year's draft, as he has the speed to play safety but the physicality to step up and contain opposing rushing attacks. There are plenty of similarities in Peppers and Bucannon's skill sets, as both players were considered excellent run defenders for their size at the college level.

During his interview with Jeremiah, Keim said the Cardinals are pleased with the progress Bucannon has made since entering the league in 2014, and that his ability to adapt for the good of the organization has had a positive effect on the team's defense.

"Deone has done a great job," Keim said. "The further away from the football, the more his limitations stand out like a lot of guys do, but Deone has really adapted to playing linebacker in the NFL, understanding how to read his keys and make plays on the run and so far he's been a fantastic player for us." 

The Cardinals have plenty of needs to address in this April's NFL Draft, but all indications are that the team will continue looking at defensive prospects who have the positional flexibility to help Arizona in multiple capacities in the future. 


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