Isaiah Simmons: 2020 NFL Draft’s promising hybrid superstar

    Hybrid players are becoming more and more vital to defensive schemes as offenses continue to evolve. Isaiah Simmons looks to be the next hybrid defender phenom to hit the NFL Draft.

    [sv slug=”felixdavila”]

    Each year, there are athletes eligible for the NFL Draft that writers miss the mark on. They present something that makes writers brand them with low potential or a treacherous floor. I’m no exception to this mistake. However, today, I’m admitting I was wrong on a 2020 NFL Draft prospect. That prospect is Clemson Tigers linebacker, Isaiah Simmons.

    Simmons who?

    Leading tackler of the 2019 champions, Isaiah Simmons is the most versatile player in the ACC. Simmons has grown into an essential cog to the Tigers’ machine. Merely three years ago, he was a virtually unknown safety to Dabo Swinney coming out of high school in Kansas. Because of previous starters declaring early for the draft, Swinney scrambled and found Simmons. The admiration was mutual, as Simmons became smitten with Clemson after watching them play.

    Now, Isaiah Simmons is on the fast track to being a first-round pick. He’s a tremendous athlete with the brains and brawn to play all over the field. Thus far, Simmons has shown just that; he can play everywhere. He lined up at safety originally, but mutually decided with defensive coordinator Brent Venables to play linebacker. This, they believed, would be a better use of his gifts. That led to a stellar 2018 season as the starting SAM and nickel linebacker.

    He amassed 97 tackles with 9.5 for loss. In coverage, he notched seven pass breakups and an interception, which went for a touchdown. Add in three forced fumbles, and 1.5 sacks and his numbers exemplify a versatile, dynamic athlete. While the statistics are eye-popping, I wasn’t sold after watching his sophomore tape. Initially, I felt he wasn’t as reactive as one would like. His raw power was not up to par, and a sizeable concern. What was missed, however, was the shadow cast by his play. A shadow that hides the potential plays he negates from opposing offenses.

    Flexible, functional, adaptable

    Simmons displayed excellent coverage skills as a safety, much like the best defensive backs in the ACC. But it’s a far cry from what he is today. Shifting to the SAM/nickel role has dramatically increased his value. At this position, Clemson can remain in base sets or use him as a decoy. He can blitz, play man, handle zone, and keep containment on athletic quarterbacks. Wherever he is aligned, Simmons shows enough discipline in his role to be good with seemingly any responsibility. He’s a movable chess piece that thwarts any schemed mismatches thrown his way.

    This versatility keeps Venables’ defense almost unpredictable. It’s that unpredictability that lends itself to the respect I now have for Isaiah Simmons’ game. Measuring in at 6’4”, 225 lbs, he shouldn’t be able to move so smoothly. Well, at least ordinary people that size shouldn’t. But Simmons possesses the ability to flip his hips and use recovery speed to get into position for pass deflections.

    My original dive into Isaiah Simmons’ tape had me fixated on the negatives. I focused on the plays where he’s late on tackles or reacts slowly to the passer’s eyes. But second looks reveal his effect on the opposition. On several instances, I noticed coverage sacks in which Simmons’ blanket coverage led to the QB holding the ball. Even more, I saw his ability to generate pressure off the edge. With his speed and length, he attacks off the edge and facilitates the interior pressure. Simmons did an excellent job of setting the edge against the run, allowing teammates to swarm the ball carrier.

    These plays aren’t always captured on broadcasts if the ball is elsewhere. But thankfully there’s All-22 footage. Below, Simmons shows his turn and run ability. His functional hip flip provides him the chance to stick with the slot receiver. Notice there’s no safety shell over the top? That’s because Venables called a play suggesting confidence in Simmons’ coverage skills. The quarterback didn’t have a chance to take a shot deep.

    Potential to be even better

    The startling part about my realization of Simmons’ potential is this:

    He hasn’t even reached his final form.

    Watching the tape, he lacked technique in his various roles on defense. He seemed too easily washed away on run plays or blitz packages. He appeared late in his reading of the quarterback’s eyes on more than one occasion. Ultimately, against the pass, he seemed too delayed in planting and driving on passes, especially underneath. This left him relying on being a better athlete than his competition.

    And that’s what’s truly shocking. With a concentration on technique, he can better use leverage to win. Much like Kendall Coleman, who I noted compensates for a smaller frame with technique, Simmons can win at the point of attack with leverage. Also, creating plans for his hand placement ahead of time will equate to serious development, especially considering his length. Recognizing plays beforehand with quality film study during the week can lead to additional comfort. A natural, consistent, and instinctual approach can result. His instincts, while we’re on the subject, are stellar. It results in many a splash play like the one below that shows Isaiah Simmons is a true playmaker.

    That is truly what drives his value high. He’s a playmaker that has a nose for the football. He has an ideal physique for the NFL, with a great build to complement his length and fluidity. Simmons demonstrates discipline in many roles to allow versatility to make him a deadly chess piece. His potential is what complemented the four defensive linemen drafted in the top 120 picks this past April. With more consistency, he could be a surefire top ten selection in the 2020 NFL Draft.

    Final thoughts

    Now, Isaiah Simmons will have to show that he can accomplish these feats and wonders behind a new defensive line.

    With the proper preparation, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Simmons become a draft darling. His potential is truly something, and he is an evaluation many can learn from.

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