Few defenses boast as much versatility and exciting playmaking talent as the Arizona Cardinals, and Haason Reddick is just the latest addition.
Haason Reddick spent his time with the Temple Owls as an “EDGE” defender, mostly lining up as a defensive end. Temple would line up the former walk-on either side of the formation, but Pro Football Focus noted that he was far less effective at converting pass rushing opportunities into pressure when lined up on the right side of the formation.
Everyone expects Reddick to be an off-ball linebacker for the Arizona Cardinals in 2017 and beyond. While his experience rushing the passer will come in handy, I am willing to argue that he was an ineffective pass rusher at the collegiate level. Reddick merely won off the edge using his length, bend, and agility, and he rarely “won” these battles. He profiles as a strong pass rusher athletically, but his lack of play strength and pass rushing moves made him a mediocre presence off the edge. Reddick had 9.5 sacks, but he mostly found it difficult to free himself from blockers.
For the most part, Reddick only succeeded at the line of scrimmage against slow tackles or, when it came to run defense, on stunts that allowed him to take advantage of his quickness. At 6-1, 237 pounds, Reddick is built like an outside linebacker and isn’t nearly bulky enough to be a true edge defender at the next level. As such, sites like Ourlads.com list him as the top backup linebacker behind Karlos Dansby and Deone Bucannon. On Arizona’s defense, we should expect Reddick to garner significant snaps as the 13th overall pick.
Aside from being frequently deployed as a spy against mobile quarterbacks, such as in Temple’s game against USF, Reddick was rarely used as an off-ball linebacker in his final season. However, there are examples of him dropping off into coverage, and he looks more fluid than the vast majority of collegiate outside linebackers. Because he was asked to play as a defensive end, the best examples of his work in coverage come against running backs.
Temple is in man coverage on this critical third-and-seven, and it looks like the middle linebacker is responsible for covering the running back on this play. However, Reddick decides to help his teammate in coverage, because he sees that he doesn’t have a chance to get pressure on the quarterback. It’s third-and-7, so he elects to pick up the running back, leading to some mis-communication. Since the throw never gets there due to the pressure from a stunt (a common theme when watching Temple), it’s hard to draw too much from this play. Click on this link to watch another example of him picking up a running back in coverage.
There’s such a limited sample of plays that involve Reddick handling the responsibilities of an NFL linebacker, which is why most of his evaluation relies on projection. This caused some scouts to complain about Reddick’s draft stock, and these scouts also panned the quality of offensive lines that he faced in college.
Despite this, Reddick’s status as a top-20 prospect was never in any doubt, and he could have even been selected in the top ten, based on opinions circulating around mock drafts. Rotoworld’s Josh Norris thought he could go as high as sixth overall and mocked Reddick 10th to the Buffalo Bills.
Mar 5, 2017; Arizona Cardinals first-round pick Haason Reddick participates in a workout drill during the 2017 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Linebackers who run a 4.52-second 40 and post a 36.5-inch vertical are always in demand, especially since other speedy linebacker prospects have proven to be successful in the NFL. Reddick had been compared to Jamie Collins and Ryan Shazier during the pre-draft process due to his traits, and those two players are among the best at the position in the NFL. Like Collins, Reddick started off as a safety and cornerback. But what likely made Reddick a more valuable prospect was the fact that he successfully played at defensive end, which showcases versatility on an entirely different plane.
While Reddick was an edge rusher in college, his best work came against the run, which is a big reason why he’s expected to make a successful transition to the linebacker position. He didn’t always make the tackle, but Reddick’s work in pursuit is a good example of his speed and ability to read-and-react.
If you want to know why people believed in Reddick as a sure-fire, first-round talent, it’s plays like the one above. He ran all the way across the field to make the play, and there are several examples of him doing this, specifically in this Memphis game alone.
Reddick had a whopping 22.5 tackles for loss last season, and it isn’t difficult to see why. He came up big on this third-and-3, but a critic could point to the fact that all he had to do was run in a straight line. Reddick didn’t have to get off of any blocks, and he didn’t even have to make a difficult tackle.
The play below is a great example of how Reddick benefited from Temple’s liberal usage of stunts to help spring him for a tackle-for-loss opportunity. Reddick wasn’t asked to show much discipline as a run defender, because that’s not how he wins. He’s too small to set the edge, so the best way to use him is to take advantage of that lightning-in-a-bottle quickness.
You can see that Reddick is lined up as the left end, but moves inside unblocked to make the play. Well, Reddick technically didn’t wrap the ball-carrier up for the loss, but he pretty much did the job for the second defender to come in and finish the play.
Speaking of finishing plays, Reddick didn’t do a great job of finishing his pass rushing opportunities to turn pressures into sacks. The play below is one of the few examples where he did, and he showed off far more strength than he normally does.
Of course, the big key for Reddick here was timing the snap correctly, otherwise he probably wouldn’t have been able to catch the lineman off-balance in order to have the leverage to record this sack. You can also see how good Reddick is at bending around tackles, which was easily his best trait as an EDGE (well, other than pure speed).
We’re taught to believe in good athletes who have the mental processing and toughness to turn their athleticism into production. Reddick had as much of an uphill battle as any prospect, as he went from being a preferred walk-on at defensive back to becoming a first-round pick after a stellar season as a defensive end.
The problem is that there’s nothing “safe” about projecting Reddick beyond his athleticism. We can make an educated guess that he’s too weak to be a full-time edge rusher at the next level, and he wasn’t even effective enough at college as a pass rusher to make that jump to the NFL. His instincts and physical traits are better-suited for linebacker, and he could truly shine as a tackling-machine against the run.
I usually like to shy away from comparing prospects directly to NFL players, so I look at the comparisons to Shazier and Collins as being mostly best-case comparisons of traits. Like Shazier, Reddick has excellent speed and knows how to use it to be a sideline-to-sideline run defender. And like Collins, Reddick has a background in coverage and can use his agility and speed to hold his own in coverage. On top of that, Collins is an excellent blitzer, and Reddick’s background as a defensive end will serve him well, especially since he won’t have to use his strength to win against blockers if he’s rushing the passer as an off-ball linebacker in the Cardinals scheme.
Jan 16, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson (26) celebrates an interception with safety Deone Bucannon (20) against the Green Bay Packers during an NFC Divisional round playoff game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Honestly, I’m surprised the Cardinals decided to use the 13th overall pick on Reddick, but he fits what they like to do on that side of the ball. The Cardinals value speed and players who have a nose for the football, and they also value versatility. They have the coaching staff in place to get the most out of an individual defender’s physical traits, and they have enough talent at all levels to allow Reddick to focus on his strengths.
Out of all the possible landing spots in this league, the Cardinals are the most accommodating for a player with Reddick’s strengths and weaknesses. Because while little is well-defined about a player making a jump to a new position in the pros, Reddick’s limitations (strength and technique as a tackler, in coverage, or even as an edge) and strengths (speed, athleticism, agility, motor, instincts, work ethic) are pretty well-defined.
Arizona’s willingness to spend the 13th overall pick on Reddick is likely a reflection of their belief that his raw talent, combined with the way he can fit their defense, was too much to pass up on. It’s also a sign that they are confident in their ability to utilize him, as well as his ability to translate his strength into production.
It’s hard for me to be convinced, simply because the amount of translatable plays on film are so sparse. He benefited greatly from unblocked tackles for loss and sacks, and while he looks like a good prospect on film, he simply doesn’t stand out. However, his athleticism at the Combine does peek through on the film when he’s able to use his speed and agility, which means that fans should be optimistic.
Since Reddick needs to gain strength, I wouldn’t be discouraged if he has a lukewarm rookie campaign that is equal parts big plays and equal parts miscues. Remember, Bucannon had 80 tackles and two sacks as a rookie but didn’t flourish as a consistent standout until his second season. And although Bucannon played safety in college for Washington State, he had eerily similar Combine numbers to Reddick with a 4.49-second 40 and 36.5-inch vertical.
Reddick profiles as a similar player to Bucannon, which bodes well for the Cardinals, as it could give them one of the most versatile (and best) inside linebacker pairings in the league.