Is Isaiah Simmons the top linebacker prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft? Or is he the best safety prospect in the class?
The former Clemson defensive superstar will be going high in the first round to make more big plays all over the field for his new team. For those NFL teams who don’t feel comfortable to take Simmons because they don’t know what position he should play for them, consider it their loss.
Sporting News talked to Simmons before the draft as part of his partnership with Oikos Triple Zero and its new “Flex your Cry-ceps” ad. In conjunction with the campaign, Simmons will be among several top draftees attending a virtual after party DJ’ed by Shaquille O’Neal on Instagram Live at 10 p.m. ET on Thursday night.
“As an athlete, everybody’s locked into everyone’s physical strength, but as I’ve been going through this process and preparing for this moment, I’ve really thought about the emotional strength as well,” Simmons said. “it really hit home for me. It’s the ‘Cry-ceps’ — you can’t do better than that.”
While we wait to see whether Simmons sheds tears when getting the call to the NFL while being surrounded by a small group of family and friends on Thursday night, here’s what you need to know about the dynamic all-around defender:
What position does Isaiah Simmons play?
Simmons (6-4, 238 pounds) was recruited to Clemson from Olathe, Kansas, as a defensive back. After redshirting as a freshman, he proved his worth as a coverage safety right away but also showed signs he could do much more with his tackling and ability to get to the quarterback.
That brought up the idea to switch his “regular” position to linebacker in 2018. He responded with 89 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, an INT and a TD to help the Tigers win a national championship. Last season, he stuffed the stat sheet at a whole new level of dominance with 104 tackles, 7 sacks, 3 interceptions and a forced fumble in another 15-game slate.
Simmons graduated in December, on top of winning the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker. That made it an easy choice to enter the draft after peak accomplishments at Clemson.
He knows what word best describes him
When asked to sum up his best quality, Simmons went to the label given to him by every draft evaluator in 2020: “There’s no other word but versatile.”
Simmons’ transition from safety to linebacker had a final wrinkle where he called upon to extend and play other positions too to maximize certain defensive sets. from end to cornerback.
“My last season at Clemson was the first time we did that,” Simmons said. “It was kind of experimental week to week and what I actually was going to do. The experiments were all successful.”
Simmons also was blessed with amazing instincts to diagnose and make plays all over the field, something many young NFL players can’t be taught.
“It was mainly just natural. The more I learned about the positions, the more natural it was for me,” Simmons said. “It wasn’t just about learning what I did, but also learning what everyone else did.”
Isaiah Simmons NFL Combine highlights
Simmons, in addition to measuring extremely well, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds, vertical-jumped 39 inches and broad-jumped 11 inches in Indianapolis. If indeed the 2020 Combine was “Underwear Olympics,” one should consider Simmons among the top “decathletes” in the 2020 draft class.
Simmons’ 40 tied for No. 6 across positions, matching some of the speediest wideouts and cornerbacks. He was tied for 11th overall in the broad jump. With Clemson able to conduct a Pro Day, too, his kept up his impressive numbers there.
“I understand that was definitely being evaluated for two different positions,” Simmons said of his pre-draft process. “I did everything I possibly could to stay ready and prepared for safety or linebacker, whatever a team was thinking about me needing to play. I felt I was already ready more so than needing to get ready for that.”
He likens his game to two NFL safeties
Simmons has paid attention to linebackers who play like safeties in the NFL — and also vice versa.
“It wouldn’t say I watched a lot of guys when I was young, but now it’s Derwin James and Tyrann Mathieu, because they play simliar roles with their versatility.”
He doesn’t care about the naysayers and will play anywhere
To borrow from his Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, “it’s crazy” to think Simmons is being downgraded by some teams who overlook his elite bottom-line playmaking and are getting caught up in not being able to slot him into a particular traditional spot in their defense.
“I am not frustrated by that,” Simmons said. “If an NFL coach doesn’t think that I fit in his system, it is what is. I know I’ll find a home somewhere.”
As for what position becomes his primary home, he’s just looking forward to pick up where he left off doing everything for Clemson.
“I feel very comfortable,” Simmons said. “I have no doubts I can do it.”
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