There is nothing in the game of football I enjoy more than what I like to call the “fatlete.” The fatlete is a human over 300 pounds that displays either freaky athleticism or strength for the defensive tackle position, if not both. Now, this moniker is normally reserved for the 320-plus pounders. The guys like Vita Vea and Brayvion Moore. But when I watched defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons play at Mississippi State, I couldn’t help but throw him in that mix as well. And in the National Football League, he had my attention from his very first snap.
Jeffery Simmons’ dominance was present early on
Here, Simmons lines up as the 3-technique defensive tackle on the left side of the defensive line, just outside of the right guard’s shoulder. The Titans dial up a blitz in the b-gap, replacing where Simmons lines up pre-snap. At the snap, Simmons shows his athletic ability immediately as he slants to the right shoulder of the center, stutter steps with a shimmy of the shoulders, and lands a punch underneath the left shoulder pad of Dan Feeny.
That’s when things get fun. Feeny lands a punch into Simmons but simply doesn’t possess the length necessary for success when Simmons aims his arm arrow correctly.
Simmons shows his hand-play acumen as he replaces his right hand from shoulder pad to underneath Feeny’s armpit, where he can reset his feet, explode with lower body and lift Feeny’s left side up as he drives his feet to collapse the pocket.
Pass rush against offensive tackles
What I mentioned above were some of my initial thoughts after watching that snap back on October 24. Simmons rarely allows an offensive lineman to lock him up. In fact, it was so few and far between that he loses reps that sometimes you forget he was a rookie and playing against NFL talent.
However, this was against a poor offensive line for the Los Angeles Chargers. He did bully every lineman on that team except for the left tackle, a player he didn’t get the chance to go against.
Right tackle Sam Tevi made a mistake on this rep. He doesn’t keep that half-man relationship between himself and Simmons, which gives No. 98 more options to attack.
Watching Simmons dominate Tevi
Part of what makes Simmons so valuable is his versatility. He’s so athletic that the Titans can move him up and down the defensive line, and while they might not have someone who can speed rush and bend around a tackle, Simmons has enough juice to threaten the outside shoulder of some tackles. That makes him dangerous, especially given he’s much heavier and infinitely stronger than most edge rushers. Add his advanced hands to the mix and it can get ugly for opposing offensive lineman.
Tevi squares up with Simmons here, and when he strikes with the left hand, the length of Simmons and the twitch he possesses in his upper half allows him to counter with a strike of his own from the right side. He supplements that hand with his left to the center of Tevi’s chest, and simply sinks, drives, and extends through to lift Tevi off the ground and off his balance.
From there, he’s able to swim through and chase. Not a bad ball from a future division foe as he retreats left either. What made Simmons my No. 3 overall player in the 2019 NFL Draft was that mixture of brute strength, upper-tier athleticism, and polish that you rarely get from bruisers like him.
Simmons against stretch concepts
Simmons played well in his subsequent game against Tampa Bay, but he still only played 33 total snaps in that matchup. To truly be a game-changing defensive lineman, he’d have to play a bigger bulk of the snaps. We have to see sustained success even through the adversity of “big man play long, get tired.” How would the motor hold up playing 42 snaps against one of the better offensive lines in the league like what they have in Indianapolis?
Early on, it seemed to be going swimmingly for the young defensive tackle. Here, Simmons is actually playing left end in Tennessee’s “odd” front. Lined up across from him is Braden Smith, who is more than serviceable for a young offensive tackle. But tackles aren’t adept at handling the kind of power Simmons brings to the table. On stretch concepts like the one above, that can cause a lot of issues if the offense decides to run his way.
Simmons is incredibly adept at keeping his distance from would-be blockers, and that shows here. This allows him to lockout and see through the blocker in order to locate the ball carrier. There’s nothing more frustrating to see when evaluating a defensive tackle than them being in a good position and not being able to locate the runner.
The most impressive thing about this rep is that he doesn’t give up the contain. He remains squared up with Smith until the back commits inside. More impressively, he’s able to slip through Mark Glowinski, who is trying to seal him as he comes off his initial assignment.
Simmons displays his unreal explosive potential
Okay, now for the fun stuff. Just the pure explosiveness and brute force from Simmons. Quenton Nelson, who is widely considered one of the best offensive guards in the league, versus the former Mississippi State standout. Nelson aligns over the left guard for Indianapolis in this short-yardage situation. I took it frame-by-frame, and I saw no outside forcing, which enabled Simmons to effectively fold one of the nastiest offensive linemen in the NFL like a folding chair.
Those two will be an absolute treat to watch compete against one another for the foreseeable future.
More Simmons against Quenton Nelson
As Billy Mays used to say, “but wait, there’s more”! To truly be great, you have to beat the greats. In football, that’s impossible to do on a down-in, down-out basis. But even watching the best fight end in stalemate can be a joyous event.
Here, it seems the initial nod goes to Nelson, as he fires off the ball well and delivers the initial blow. Simmons gets his hands through, controlling the right shoulder early, but the strike with his right hand resets the battle, creates a sliver of distance, and allows him to anchor down. A little hands to the face may have helped a bit, but I won’t tell if you won’t.
And if you buy right now, you’ll get a third video of Simmons and Nelson absolutely free! Although Simmons doesn’t win this rep in any sort of dominant fashion, everything he did would have won against a mere mortal. He gets Nelson in a compromised position as he fakes initially to the outside before pairing that with a change of direction and a strong “hump” move with the left arm. He even gets Nelson’s feet crossing over, which would probably topple most lineman. Unfortunately, Nelson is able to recover, however.
There are the sort of counters he’ll have to land on a consistent basis if he wants to be a top-level pass rusher from the interior and not just an athletic freak who is strong against the run. All the ingredients are there for Simmons to be one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL. Hopefully, Tennessee uses him more often with free reign on the interior rather than a five-technique defensive end, which would allow him to use that explosiveness to shoot gaps on passing downs.
The sky is the limit for Simmons, and if he reaches his ceiling, he’ll be one of the top five interior players in the league.