The Arizona Cardinals know what they like, and on Thursday evening, they found what they like.
Since general manager Steve Keim assumed his position in 2013, the Cardinals have prioritized finding defensive players with schematic versatility to play all over the field and create havoc for opposing offenses.
During the first round of Thursday evening's NFL Draft, Keim and Co. used the Cardinals' selection, the 13th overall pick, to draft Temple linebacker Haason Reddick, a 6-foot-1, 237-pound athlete with the quick-twitch athleticism to help Arizona's defense in a variety of different roles.
Though Reddick played primarily as an edge rusher at the college level, the former walk-on displayed transferrable skills that led some scouts to conclude his best fit in the professional ranks is as a 3-4 inside linebacker.
After selecting Reddick on Thursday, Keim and head coach Bruce Arians would not commit to playing Reddick at a particular position, instead suggesting they anticipate the Temple product to help Arizona in subpackages early in his career.
What makes Reddick such an appealing prospect for a defense like Arizona's? We looked at Reddick's tape and recognized his ability to dissect plays, maintain discipline and then use his explosiveness to shut down opposing ball carriers and bring down opposing quarterbacks are all traits that should translate well to the next level.
In this edition of our "Play Anatomy" series, we're going to look at a specific example of how Reddick proved he has the type of skill set that makes him an intriguing prospect as both an inside and outside linebacker in the NFL.
On this play, Reddick's Temple Owls are taking on Penn State and Reddick is aligned in a two-point stance as an edge rusher at the line of scrimmage. Immediately at the snap, Penn State shows a zone-read look in the backfield designed to isolate Reddick against the quarterback. With the tackle leaving Reddick unblocked, Penn State wants to read Reddick's movement at the line of scrimmage to determine where to go with the ball. If Reddick bites on the running back, the quarterback's responsibility is to keep the ball and beat Reddick to the edge. If Reddick stays tight to the line and plays his responsibility soundly, then the Nittany Lions will give the ball to their running back.
At the snap, Reddick does an excellent job dissecting the play and working two yards up the field and a step inside to cut the quarterback's lane off. Immediately upon reading Reddick, the quarterback knows to give the ball to his running back, although in this instance, the Nittany Lions are probably giving the ball to their back regardless because they've designed a trick play. Nevertheless, by staying disciplined and staying home, Reddick puts himself in proper position to defend his assignment and in turn, defend his side of the field. As you can see, Reddick begins to recognize that the Nittany Lions are showing some reverse action on the play, because even though he keeps his feet in proper position, he also keeps his eyes focused down the line of scrimmage to see what's coming next.
Shortly after the running back takes the handoff on the zone read, he's in position to give the ball to a wide receiver on a reverse play headed back toward Reddick's side of the field. Had Reddick chased the running back initially, he would have been out of position and failed his assignment. Instead, though, Reddick read the action in the backfield and that wound up putting him in excellent position to react to what happens next. When Penn State designed this play, it wanted its quarterback to help take out Reddick with a block if Reddick did wind up staying home. The problem? Reddick is too quick and agile to make that a reality, and instead of allowing the play to come to him, he takes matters into his own hands when he sees the receiver take the reverse handoff. By firing up the field, Reddick is cutting off the running lane and angle of the receiver. Even if he doesn't make the play, Reddick's pursuit will give his teammates enough time to recover from the reverse action and come back to make the tackle.
The good news for Reddick's teammates? He does make the play. After seeing the reverse, Reddick fires into the backfield, breezes his way past the block attempt of the quarterback and takes down the receiver for a significant loss. This was all made possible by the assignment soundness Reddick displayed, his ability to read his keys properly, and the discipline he showed by not chasing the running back. As soon as Reddick sniffed out the reverse, he pounced and sent the wide receiver for a loss with an impressive form tackle.
This is exactly the type of play that has the Cardinals confident in Reddick's ability to contribute as both an edge and inside linebacker in the NFL. If Reddick can learn to read and react to his keys, there's no doubt he has the athleticism to thrive in the NFL and the speed to be a sideline-to-sideline player. Whether Reddick finds a home as a Mike linebacker in a 3-4 scheme or an edge presence as a subpackage defender doesn't ultimately matter as long as he's able to make plays like this.