- Height: 6′ 4″
- Weight: 230
- School: Clemson
2019 is in the books and it’s never too early to start breaking down the 2020 NFL Draft. Over the next few months, we will be beaten over the head with dozens of different opinions on every offensive player who has a chance to be drafted in April, while the defensive players simply just don’t get the same love. Dynasty Nerds has you covered this year breaking down all the best talent for your IDP leagues to make sure you are fully prepared for your rookie drafts. We start with my favorite LB in this class and the most versatile player on the defensive side of the ball Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons.
Over the past few weeks, I have started watching “Peyton’s Place” on ESPN+ a show where Peyton Manning interviews current and former NFL players and coaches on a vast majority of topics. I’ve always been a defensive guy at heart playing defensive end, defensive tackle and linebacker in my high school playing career.
The episode that stood out to me the most and was the inspiration for this series was J.J. Watt joining Peyton Manning in an episode called Game Wreckers. This term has always fascinated me long before watching this episode as I’ve heard it used all the way back to my pee-wee football days.
As I decided to create this series for Dynasty Nerds, I had to put together a definition of what a game wrecker is to me. A game wrecker is a defensive player who gives opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators nightmares. A player that the offense must not only scheme for every single play regardless if it’s a run or pass but a player you must identify where they are lined up and potentially doing before every snap. A player that just by them being on the field makes the other ten guys on defense jobs so much easier. A true asset and cornerstone to a defense.
Where it Starts
When you think of the current NFL and those players who would get the game wrecker tag it makes sense to think of Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack and rightfully so because those two can destroy an offensive game plan in one drive and strike fear in opposing offenses. I would never attempt to change that narrative but what I will do is explain how a game wrecker can be any defensive player who can frustrate an offense and stop them from doing what they want to do the most. Naturally, a defensive lineman or EDGE rusher will be identified as a game wrecker well before a linebacker or defensive back but I’m here to say those players on occasions can fit into that category as well.
All the hype in this draft is around Chase Young the Ohio State EDGE rusher who was nothing short of a game wrecker in his three collegiate seasons in Columbus which was evident by him breaking the Ohio State single-season sack record with 16.5 this season. However, I decided to take a different approach as I stated above and will start this game wrecker series with the most versatile defensive player in this year’s draft Isaiah Simmons.
Isaiah Simmons stands at 6’4” weighing in unofficially at 230 lbs. and was first-team all-state on both offense and defense at Olathe North High School in Kansas. Simmons arrived at Clemson with a deep and varied skill set that left him without a true position. The future football star was redshirted his freshman season while training and competing in track and field at Clemson. Once Simmons saw the field for the Clemson Tigers as a redshirt freshman he never looked back and became a key piece of the Tigers successful defense.
After one of the best National Championship games ever in 2016 where Clemson and Deshaun Watson shocked Alabama with a late touchdown to win the Championship, the Tigers lost four defensive backs to the NFL Draft. Starting the 2017 season as defending National Champions it’s clear the Tigers needed secondary help and relied on their versatile redshirt freshmen Isaiah Simmons. The former Kansas high school star started all 14 games at strong safety. Simmons led the team by averaging a tackle every 6.1 snaps, little did many college football fans know this was just scratching the surface as to how good the future first-round NFL draft pick would be.
The true greatness of the former two way all-state player showed in the 2018 season while Clemson was on a mission to once again to win the National Championship. The versatility started to show for Simmons as a redshirt sophomore he began to play multiple positions including Mike (middle), Sam (strong side) and Nickel linebacker while also still being an effective strong safety both in the box and deep. Simmons 97 tackles were good enough for first on the team and he also registered his first career pick 6 in 2018. Like the true gamer he is, Simmons saved some of his best performances for when it mattered most in the two CFB playoff games. He had 14 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a half-sack and two pass breakups. A truly great season for a second-year starter who was able to call himself a National Champion in just his second year as a starter in college.
The 2019 season for Isaiah Simmons was nothing short of spectacular, Simmons made his full switch to playing linebacker. Isaiah Simmons’s list of accomplishments in his final season at Clemson is lengthy. That list is headlined by becoming the first Clemson player ever to win the Butkus Award (Nation’s best linebacker). Simmons also was a finalist for the Nagurski, Bednarik and Lott IMPACT trophy. Simmons also took home the ACC defensive player of the year award as well as being named first-team All ACC and being named as only the 6th player in Clemson history to be named unanimous All American.
En route to another National Championship game appearance, Simmons played some of his best football down the stretch. Posting 9 tackles and an interception in the ACC Championship game against Virginia. Simmons had four tackles and an interception against Ohio State helping Clemson reach another CFP National Championship Game. And in a losing effort against #1 ranked LSU posted 7 tackles and a sack.
Wrapping up his last college season Simmons tallied 107 tackles and proved he can play just about anywhere on defense and he entered one of the rarest groups. Simmons became only the 3rd player in FBS since 2005 with 100 tackles, 8 sacks and multiple interceptions in a season becoming the most recent to do so since 2013 when Khalil Mack accomplished this.
I’ll start with the 2019 CFP Semifinal Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State which I believe is one of Simmons’s best games. In this clip, you see his effectiveness as a blitzer without actually making the play. So often we like to think of game wreckers being the guy who disrupts the offensive play and makes the stop and that’s not always the case especially at the NFL level. There are many plays that happen in a game and for a defender to blow a play up without registering a tackle or sack is very common which is what you see from Simmons here. On this play, Simmons comes off the left side well-timed splitting the tackle and guard and shedding the attempted block by the RB which forces Justin Fields to pull the ball down and run for a minimal gain on the play. The skills he brings as a blitzer are so rare for a player who is just as effective in coverage a true bonus to whoever drafts the former Clemson Tiger on draft day.
Video credit: SkolMitzel cuts on http://youtube.com/
This play is just picture perfect if you truly believe Isaiah Simmons is a deep safety at the next level. A huge momentum swing in this game helped Clemson eventually get the win and go on to play LSU for the National Championship. Simmons here is in a deep safety look and cheating over to the two WR side pre-snap. This has Justin Fields thinking the go route by the outside WR should hold Simmons to that side, additionally, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables sends a corner blitz from the right side which is forcing Fields to make a decision fast.
In this case, the shallow safety/LB here is responsible for the vacated area left by the blitzing corner, in Fields mind as soon as the WR clears that zone it should be an easy throw and catch up the right sideline. Simmons’s straight-line speed is on display here as he just dares Fields to throw this ball knowing he has the speed and ball skills to make the interception. This isn’t a great play by Fields and something he will surely get better at as he develops more as a pocket passer but the athleticism of Simmons here is on full display showing amazing range and making the interception and getting both feet down in bounds.
Video credit: SkolMitzel cuts on http://youtube.com/
Championship game against #1 LSU. The first play Simmons is lined up in the slot against Thaddeus Moss who runs a short out here to keep LSU ahead of the chains while they are backed up on their 4-yard line, Simmons would have none of this as he blankets Moss knocking the pass away and forcing a second and long. This play to me shows that Simmons can be the type of player to neutralize or slow down elite tight ends in the NFL. It’s very common that the elite level TEs in the NFL can win specifically when matched up on a linebacker or safety with Simmons being a great mix of both, it’s less likely his future defensive coordinator will have to worry about putting a cornerback on these TEs because Simmons can match up with his combination of speed and coverage skills.
This last video has three different plays from the 2019 CFP National The second play is Simmons creeping up to the line of scrimmage which he did a ton of in the first quarter of this game and coming on a run blitz off the edge. Simmons shoots in untouched and squares up to tackle the RB immediately after he’s handed the ball to force a 2nd down and long. Simmons’s effectiveness as a blitzer will instantly benefit any defense as you’ve seen in both the Ohio State tape as well as the National Championship game against LSU.
The final play in this clip is Simmons matched up one on one with Clyde Edwards-Helaire who lines up to the top of the screen. This is a common play that the New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots use with Alvin Kamara and James White in an attempt to create a mismatch. The downside here for LSU is that Isaiah Simmons is very talented in coverage which most LBs aren’t. The RB runs a hitch in another attempt to get ahead of the chains for LSU something they’ve been extremely successful with all season but Simmons is all over it and breaks on the ball as it’s thrown, this wasn’t one of Joe Burrow’s better throws but regardless even if it was caught this was going nowhere in a hurry.
This three-play package to me shows the versatility of Simmons and how he can be a true problem for future offensive coordinators. Simmons showed his coverage skills in one on one situations against a TE and RB who will both likely be playing on Sundays as well as show his effectiveness around the line of scrimmage against the run.
Video credit: http://espn.com/youtube
When you’re looking at Isaiah Simmons as a prospect there’s just not much you don’t like. The best description I could come up with is if you wanted to build the perfect guy to cover prime Rob Gronkowski one on one it just might be Simmons. The straight line and sideline to sideline speed, instincts, ball skills and effectiveness as a blitzer make him a true wild card player for any defense. The man to man coverage is much better than when he’s asked to sit down in a zone, but his wingspan and first step quickness make him just a true one of a kind player. All of the skills Simmons possesses at such a young age make him a future IDP goldmine and honestly if defensive end wasn’t so thin as a position, I believe he could be the 1.01 in IDP only rookie drafts.
It’s unclear where Simmons will play at the next level but his versatility and effectiveness as both an LB and Safety make the sky the limit for his potential as a pro. We are looking at a player who has 28 starts as a safety and 15 as an LB in three seasons he has improved statistically in every defensive category and is on his way to becoming a top 10 pick in a very talented draft class. Depending on the IDP scoring in your leagues don’t rule out Isaiah Simmons’s name being mentioned at the beginning of the 2nd round of rookie drafts this off-season.