Draft Prospect Preview | LB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
Height: 6-foot 4
Weight: 230 lbs.
Isaiah Simmons is a pretty special athlete.
He initially played and excelled at defensive back and wide receiver in high school, and, after receiving numerous recruiting offers for some big-time college programs, he enrolled at Clemson, where he redshirted in his freshman year. During that time, he joined the track team while he built his body for football.
In retrospect, his work with the track team likely helped him develop the speed and athleticism necessary to excel at football, but it’s his versatility and that he’s not your typical “jack of all trades, master of none” that makes him unique.
Simmons transitioned from safety in 2017 to the starting nickel/strongside linebacker position in 2018 and, in 2019, was named Clemson’s first-ever Butkus Award winner, given annually to the nation’s top linebacker in 2019 in only his second year at the position.
The sports communication major, who got better as his college career went on despite having more and more added to his plate, had his best season in 2019. That year, in 15 games, he recorded 104 tackles (67 solo) and 16.5 tackles for a loss to go along with a career-high three interceptions.
He also became just the sixth unanimous All-American in school history, joining one-time Giant defender Terry Kinard (1982), Gaines Adams (2006), C.J. Spiller (2009), Da’Quan Bowers (2010) and Christian Wilkins (2018).
Indeed, his experience at Clemson, where he played 253 snaps at slot cornerback, 166 at safety, and 204 at linebacker, and yet still performed at a high enough level is a good indicator of what he could bring to the table.
Why He’s a Fit
The Giants defense needs a playmaker—desperately. Since 2016, the last season the team was good enough for the playoffs, the Giants defense has been a mixture of youth, aging veterans, and talent misfits that have led to some historically bad numbers.
The Giants gave up 28.2 points per game (30th in the NFL), 264 passing yards per game (28th), and 113.2 rushing yards per game (20th) last year. While they had some bright spots here and there, a playmaker of Simmons’ class would be just what the doctor ordered.
Where Simmons is most intriguing is in coverage. Widely regarded as one of the best open-field tacklers in college football—per Pro Football Focus he missed just one tackle in his first 43 attempts of 2019—his versatility no doubt has teams salivating over the various roles he could potentially fill on defense, roles that could include free safety, strong safety, and linebacker.
If the Giants are as sick of watching tight ends and screen passes consistently succeed against them, then Simmons could be part of the solution. Simmons, a player a team can build a defense around, has the speed to run with tight ends down the seam.
He is also a potential weapon in the slot, where he’s had some snaps and creates a mismatch against the usually smaller receivers that line up at that spot. A physical defender who uses his hands well, Simmons has instincts that help get him to where the ball is going and has legitimate sideline-to-sideline speed.