INDIANAPOLIS — When asked Thursday at the NFL Combine what position he plays, Clemson star Isaiah Simmons had a one-word answer: “Defense.”
Ask anyone who watched the Falcons play in 2019 what Atlanta’s biggest need is, and they’ll have the very same response: “Defense.”
Simmons and the Falcons are a match made in heaven. And Atlanta should trade up to get him.
Atlanta’s most glaring need, simply put, is on the defensive side of the football. Sure, you can isolate edge rushers, pass defense or cornerback as specific holes, but when it comes down to it, the Falcons are flat-out bad on defense as a whole.
Simmons possesses a historic repertoire of wide-ranging abilities that fix many of these specific defensive weaknesses.
On first down, he stuffs the run. On second down, he can drop underneath the hook to knock down a pass, and on third down, he’ll get you off the field with a sack.
These are three very different skills that usually take three different players to fulfill. Simmons can not only do all of them, but dominate in each category.
“There isn’t anything I can’t do,” Simmons said. “I play every position, except for nose (tackle) and three-tecnhique.”
The Falcons will most certainly address their leaky defense early and often in this year’s draft for good reason. Dan Quinn’s crew ranked 20th in total defense a year ago, 20th in points allowed and 23rd in yards allowed per play.
There are holes all over the place on defense. The most glaring is pass rush — the Falcons pressured the quarterback on only 8.8% of passing attempts while collecting just 28 sacks. Only the Dolphins were worse in that category.
In 2019, the Falcons allowed 3,918 yards through the air and gave up 1,775 yards on the ground.
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If Atlanta trades up to snag Simmons, he will boost every single one of these departments.
Using a traditional train of thought, the process of addressing the defense would mean drafting a defensive end, linebacker and defensive back while hoping they all produce. Simmons, however, isn’t a traditional player.
“Years ago, it wasn’t good to be a positionless guy,” Simmons said. “But now, it’s become a benefit for me.”
Despite doubling as a safety and a defensive end, Simmons won the Butkus Award in 2019 as college football’s best linebacker while becoming a unanimous All-American for racking up 107 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, eight sacks, 10 pass break-ups and three interceptions.
Good luck finding a stat-line like that anywhere else.
Sure, the ACC is a different level of competition than the NFL. Of course, there have been examples of jacks of all trades shining in college but mastering none in the NFL.
But the league is evolving.
Speed and versatility become more and more important by the year at the linebacker position, and Simmons sees it.
“The name of the game now is stopping the tight end,” Simmons said. “Something has to be done to stop the Travis Kelces and George Kittles.”
Simmons will not come onto a professional roster as a rookie and automatically turn it into the 1985 Chicago Bears. But he’s a surefire impact player with the skills of a highly-graded pass rusher, run stopper and pass defender.
He’s worth trading a first- and mid-round pick. And if the Falcons are serious about competing, they should do what it takes to get him to Atlanta.