Taking the place of the injured Tyvon Branch, rookie safety Budda Baker turned up the heat and made quite the name for himself in his first full start for the Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals’ defense suffered a major blow when they lost their leading tackler Tyvon Branch to a season-ending injury. Budda Baker, who was already excelling in special teams, was asked to fill some big shoes.
And as a baker fills his pastries, Budda filled those shoes quite well, turning heads in the process. A performance so good, Pro Football Focus gave him a game grade of 99.9.
He finished the game with 13 total tackles, including a sack, 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a pass break up. Taking all 70 defensive snaps, according to Pro-Football-Reference, the 21-year-old came to work with his hard hat and earned his lunch that day.
“I thought Budda played his tail off,” head coach Bruce Arians said. “He’s going to be one heck of a player.”
I would expect no one is happier with the performance than general manager Steve Keim, who traded up to 36th in the draft to get the player he wanted. Not expected to have much of a role outside of special teams this year, the second-round pick is already returning on the investment.
An investment that is surely needed in a dilapidated defense. The unit had high hopes coming in 2017, but so far, along with the wide receivers on offense, it’s been its weakest link.
More from Raising Zona
- Arizona Cardinals: Reliving Don Coryell’s Hall of Fame Career
- Lou Anarumo could bring familiar assistant to Arizona Cardinals
- Caesars Super Bowl Promo Cashes Up to $1,250
- 3 Arizona Cardinals players who won’t be missed in 2023
- Arizona Cardinals: Do you believe Payton’s take or Bradshaw’s take?
Baker’s coming out party was something to admire in a season that hasn’t had much to cheer about, and filled with myriad disappointments. It’s a nice silver lining; reassurance that Keim made the right choice for the future of the defense — and the franchise. It, if only for a week, made Cardinal fans able to cheer for something, despite the losing effort.
In a defense full of play makers, Baker will look to add his name to the list of household names. And with questions regarding the play and abilities of safety Tyrann Mathieu, a fresh, new, aggressive safety is a god send.
With six games left, the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Washington product will get his chance to showcase his skills for the remainder of the season. A season that already has us looking towards next year, with playoffs hopes all but vanished.
Not often do you see a rookie have an immediate impact. Albeit one full game as a starter, I imagine we’ll see this quite often with him flying around on the field.
And with Thanksgiving approaching, I’m sure defensive coordinator James Bettcher is quite thankful to have such a versatile weapon to have at his disposal.