Wayne Simmons (1993), Anthony Simmons (1998), Stephone Anthony (2015), and Isaiah Simmons (2020). What do those four names have in common? Each is a former Clemson Tiger LB selected in the first round of the NFL draft. In 2023, Trenton Simpson hopes to add his name to that prestigious list. But does Simpson’s scouting report showcase the talent that can crack the first round? Spoiler alert: it does.
Trenton Simpson NFL draft profile
Simpson is not some under-the-radar prospect. The son of a decorated U.S. Army Ranger, greatness wasn’t hoped for, it was expected. After generating 20 sacks as a senior for Mallard Creek High School, Simpson was seen as the No. 1 OLB recruit and the crown jewel of North Carolina in the 2020 class. He initially committed to Auburn but ultimately decided to stay closer to home, signing with Clemson.
As a result, Simpson received the do-it-all defensive catalyst torch from Isaiah Simmons, who left for the NFL in the 2020 draft. Simpson spent his true freshman campaign as a rotational piece, but 2021 was his coming out party. Recording 110 tackles (18.5 for loss), 10 sacks, three pass breakups, and a forced fumble in 15 starts, it’s safe to say Simpson has already lived up to his billing.
Although longtime defensive coordinator Brent Venables is now the head coach of Oklahoma, new Clemson DC Wes Goodwin should keep many of the key principles in place. Simpson should remain in his primarily overhang role, but Goodwin would be wise to continue to tap into the Clemson LB’s immense versatility. What do I mean by versatility, and just how good is Simpson? Let’s turn on the tape to discuss.
- Position: Linebacker
- School: Clemson
- Current Year: Junior
- Height/Weight: 6’3″, 230 pounds
Trenton Simpson scouting report
Before we continue, let’s make one thing clear: Simpson is not Isaiah Simmons. Sure, they are both uber-athletic “linebackers” that play a versatile role, but they do so differently. Simmons was a jumbo-sized safety (6’4″, 240 pounds) asked to drop into the box, while Simpson is a true linebacker with the athleticism to play in space.
The comparisons will persist, especially as the 2023 NFL Draft draws near. After all, Simmons went in the top 10 and has struggled to find a footing with the Arizona Cardinals. If Simmons struggles again, teams will be wary of making the same mistake. But I’m here to tell you why Simpson has a clearer path to NFL productivity and is a surefire first-round pick.
Where Simpson wins
When you watch Simpson’s tape, you have to play a bit of “Where’s Waldo?” before each snap. On any given play, Simpson could be in the box, in the slot, off the edge, or even at deep safety. But what makes Simpson so valuable isn’t his ability to line up all over the field. It’s his ability to dominate all over the field.
Simpson can pressure QBs off blitzes or as a true edge rusher, take on blocks in run defense, and blanket pass catchers in coverage. As a pass rusher, Simpson is fluid and natural. He wins with length, an explosive first step, and the flexibility to flatten/turn corners to the quarterback. Although he can occasionally win one-on-one matchups on the edge, he is best utilized on stunts/blitzes, bulldozing unsuspecting blockers.
What’s more, he comes with a plan of attack and excellent technique, something you don’t typically see from off-ball linebackers rushing the passer. His eyes never leave the QB, allowing him to get his hands up into passing lanes or separate from blockers to track them down on the move.
In run defense, Simpson can pop on contact, fire his hips, and disengage with ease. Like a dumpster diver sifting through trash in search of treasure, Simpson instinctually moves around bodies in the box to find the ball carrier. His lateral movement skills are elite, as he has the twitch to bounce between gaps at a moment’s notice. Additionally, the Clemson LB can hold contain vs. TEs and tackles, keeping his feet active and eyes on the ball.
Simpson isn’t the strongest, but he easily converts speed to power and plays with excellent pad level. He gains leverage and uses his length to control the opposition at the point of attack, and his twitchiness affords him some room for error.
All of that said, it’s Simpson’s coverage prowess that is most exciting. Here, Simpson’s football IQ and film study shine. Against Wake Forest, he had a rep where he forced the bunch set to widen by pressing at the line and sliding outward. The QB had no choice but to throw underneath, which Simpson swiftly identified and made a play on the ball. His processing speed is visible against WR screens, which he routinely blew up.
Simpson’s closing speed is also impressive, as he can chase QBs/RBs sideline to sideline or run down receivers in the open field. He drops in his zone rapidly and has the range to play as a Tampa 2 MIKE. Furthermore, the Clemson LB has the acceleration to contest passes after losing a step at the stem or line of scrimmage.
Last but certainly not least is Simpson’s tackling prowess and motor. Simpson has a few missed tackles on tape, but he makes up for it with the sheer amount he records in space. He wraps up with proper technique, securing his arms around his opponent and keeping his head up. His length allows him to leave his feet a bit earlier than you would like on occasion, as he is still able to bring ball carriers down.
And his motor? Never in question. You don’t have to worry if he will give his all on any given snap, no matter the phase. Oh, and the cherry on top: Simpson has a solid amount of special-teams experience.
Simpson’s areas for improvement
As much as there is to love with Simpson, no prospect is perfect. His versatility hurt him in one facet. He wasn’t asked to stack much at the second level and was primarily the weakside backer. Now, Clemson did boast Baylon Spector and James Skalski, limiting the need to play Simpson there. Nevertheless, he could stand to add muscle mass to his frame. With Venables, Spector, and Skalski all out of town, Simpson may get the chance to prove his worth inside.
Moreover, the Clemson LB can improve his hands when taking on blocks. His placement can be a bit inconsistent, and his pass-rush repertoire could use more counters and go-to moves outside his speed to power. While he can deconstruct blocks, there are times when longer, more powerful tackles stonewall him off the edge. And as a run defender, he can over pursue angles, leaving cutback lanes for rushers.
On top of the occasionally poor angle as a tackler, Simpson can leave his feet too early, losing power after contact. In coverage, he can be more disciplined in man-to-man situations, watching the WR’s hips and not reacting to upper-body fakes. And in zone, he sometimes drifts outside his shell, leaving pass catchers with room to operate.
Current draft projection for Clemson LB Trenton Simpson
Is Simpson the next Isaiah Simmons? No. Is he the next Micah Parsons, as some have compared his skill set to? No. Trenton Simpson is the next Trenton Simpson. But if we had to give him a pro comparison, it would be Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.
Both were overhang/slot defenders in college that thrived off their versatility and athleticism. JOK would’ve been a first-rounder in the 2021 draft were it not for health concerns. That’s exactly where I believe Simpson will go next April.
Simpson checks all the boxes. High school pedigree, off-field character (two-time ACC Honor Roll selection), elite athleticism, productivity, and, most importantly, potential. Simpson is a new-wave linebacker in the NFL, the type that can match any personnel or scheme that offenses throw at him.
I don’t believe he will go in the top 10 as Simmons did (eighth overall), but it’s not entirely out of the question — especially if Simpson is allowed to play more of a stack/shed role and thrive this season. Even if he doesn’t, the Clemson defender possesses the talent to fly off the board as the LB1 in the 2023 NFL Draft.