Updated 4/25/2020: This article has been updated after an interview with Evan Weaver.
On Saturday, the Arizona Cardinals selected former Cal football linebacker Evan Weaver with the No. 202 overall pick in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL draft.
“I got picked where I’m at,” Weaver said on a conference call. “I’m happy to be an Arizona Cardinal. I have motivation, I always have motivation, I’m ready to go.”
It was the fifth pick of the draft for the Cardinals, who also selected linebacker Isaiah Simmons with the No. 8 overall pick. Weaver is the fourth defensive player taken by Arizona, which is likely seeking to balance its recent offensive acquisitions in running back Kenyan Drake and star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to build a contending team around last year’s No. 1 overall pick, quarterback Kyler Murray.
Weaver played all four years of his collegiate career at Cal, where he set the school record for single-season tackles and was named a consensus All-American in his senior season.
“I thought I was going to go off the board earlier, but I’m super excited where I ended up,” Weaver said. “I think it couldn’t have been any better. … They need some linebackers, and with Isaiah Simmons there and the guys they already have there, I’m just super blessed and honored to be able to go help us win a Super Bowl.”
The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year finished his career with 412 total tackles, 2 interceptions and 8.5 sacks. His 182 tackles during his senior year exemplified his signature ability, bringing down runners in the open field. Many Cal fans will recall Weaver flying across the field to make a stunning stop, regarded as a gritty, old-school, run-stopping linebacker.
That skill set may hold less value with NFL teams, as scouts raised concerns about his athleticism, speed and coverage ability, all of which are valued by NFL teams who seek out linebackers who can work at multiple levels — making stops in the backfield, stopping the run and dropping back into coverage. The 6’3”, 235-pound middle linebacker ran a 4.76 40-yard dash after being one of three Cal players invited to the NFL combine.
Those concerns may have been the reason Weaver slid out of his projected draft position in the fourth or fifth round and into the sixth. But they weren’t enough to stop the Cardinals from taking a player they’d met with multiple times leading up to the draft.
“Actually talked with Cardinals at the senior bowl and a little bit at the combine. I’ve been talking to them for a few weeks, and I’m just super excited,” Weaver said after his selection. “I’m really thankful to coach (Kliff) Kingsbury and all the coaches and the owner and everyone. I’m just ecstatic.”
Earlier in the draft, Weaver’s former teammates, safeties Ashtyn Davis and Jaylinn Hawkins, were taken by the New York Jets at No. 68 overall and by the Atlanta Falcons at No. 134, respectively. Both of them accompanied Weaver to the combine in late winter.
“It’s awesome,” Weaver said of the support from the Cal community. “It just shows that I was able to create a type of legacy (at Cal) and make brothers for life, guys I was fortunate enough to be around, and I love them and always will — just can’t wait to see where they go.”
The Cardinals’ run defense ranked in the bottom third of the NFL last season, surrendering 120.1 yards per contest on the ground. Arizona’s 3-4 base defense mirrors that of Cal’s scheme under defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, and Weaver figures to join Simmons in competing for a role alongside incumbent starter Jordan Hicks.
Weaver was known as an intense, fiery leader of the Cal football program, but his tone took a different approach when asked about his selection in the sixth round.
“I’m just thankful that the Cardinals picked me up,” Weaver said. “I can’t wait to get in the building and keep proving people wrong like what I’ve done.”