2020 NFL Draft Scouting Report

Isaiah Simmons

August 5, 2019 1:00 AM EST

Grant Delpit Scouting Report picture

School: Clemson

Height: 6'4"

Weight: 225

Eligibility: JR

Uniform: #11

Position: LB

Evaluated by: Austin Smith
August 5, 2019

Prospect Overview

Simmons is a serious candidate to be one of the top defensive prospects in the 2020 class if he decides to declare following his junior year. With so many offensive schemes designed to exploit defensive personnel groupings, versatility is a premium trait, and Simmons has it. Originally a safety, he has successfully made the transition to linebacker, and Brett Venables loves to take advantage of his skillset. Simmons lines up in the slot, as a deep safety in cover-two, as a linebacker in the box, as a strong safety just outside the box and as an edge rusher on the line of scrimmage. Clemson plays him on both the strong and weak side, and they trust him in zone and man coverage.

Isaiah Simmons Scouting Report image 1

Because he lines up all over the field, Simmons tends to fill the stat sheet, and as the season went on, he became one of their most impactful players on a defense that had five prospects drafted and nine total players currently competing to make NFL rosters. After a solid season as a redshirt freshman, Simmons broke out in 2018. He had a team-high 97 tackles with 9.5 coming behind the line of scrimmage. Simmons broke up seven passes, intercepting one and taking it 27 yards for a touchdown. He also added a sack and a half, and as a result of these numbers, Simmons has been linked to several Preseason All-American Teams. Considering he is still developing his instincts at linebacker, Simmons could be in for an even bigger year, and if that happens, All-America awards will lead to NFL attention.


With passing games continuing to evolve at the NFL level, three-down linebackers are essential to defensive success. Simmons displays all the traits of a player that can handle that role. It starts with his size. Simmons is listed at six feet, four inches and 225 pounds with very good arm-length. That size, combined with his athleticism, make him a capable player in most situations. By the way, he also competed in the long jump for the Clemson track team early in his career. Simmons is big enough to take on blockers, and his arms help him keep separation from them. He is also a tough guy to throw against because he doesn't have to be on the receiver's hip to make a play. When I'm scouting pass-catchers, I talk a lot about the importance of catch-radius. In this case, Simmons' coverage-radius is incredible, and it should result in more turnovers as he gets more comfortable at the position.

Isaiah Simmons Scouting Report image 2

Obviously, there are prospects all over the country who display a combination of size and athleticism, but there is still plenty to like about Simmons outside of his physical features. His footwork is impeccable in multiple phases of the game. In pursuit, his feet never stop, and that is an underappreciated quality for playing on the defensive side of the ball. The guy keeps his feet active as he searches for lanes to the ball-carrier, and it keeps him balanced and ready to accelerate when he spots one. Even taking on blockers, he drives his feet to get his opponent off balance so he can disengage and get back in pursuit. In coverage, his feet once again stay active, keeping him prepared to break on the throw. I believe his natural position in the NFL will be as a weakside linebacker in any scheme, whether it's outside in a four-man front or inside in a three-man front. Either way, he is going to be in pursuit quite often, and his active feet are going to come in handy.

I've already mentioned his arm-length and his ability to extend his hands to keep blockers off his frame, but they aid him as a tackler as well. In fact, he is one of the best tacklers in the country. Simmons routinely takes proper angles to the ball, using both the sideline and his other teammates as boundaries. With those long arms and his ability to play with outstanding leverage, he is nearly impossible to get around, and it's even less likely that he'll let the runner slips through his arms. There is also minimal hesitation between Simmons seeing it and springing into action. That's why I believe he can be special when his instincts catch up at the position. Simmons also has no qualms with contact. He understands leverage well, getting low, and delivering the blow when he's in position. I'll also point out that while I think his straight-line speed is very good for a safety, it is outstanding for a linebacker.

Areas for Improvement

If Simmons were playing safety, I'd say his hips are a little stiff, and his ability to change directions suffers because of it. At linebacker, it's not as much of an issue, but if he is going to continue to flex out to the slot in the NFL, it could become one. I'm not saying he can't do that, and he has proven he can cover. Just watch him take on Miles Boykin and his 4.42 speed in the College Football Semifinal. Still, teams like to put a variety of receivers in the slot, and Simmons is not equipped to handle them all. When he can keep depth in his cushion, he's pretty good at giving himself enough time to flips his hips without letting the receiver blow by him, but that leaves him vulnerable to shorter routes. Teams will target that and when he has to play up, his ability to turn and run will become exposed.

Isaiah Simmons Scouting Report image 3

As I've mentioned, his instincts need to continue to develop. On the snaps where he was unable to get involved, it was usually because blockers were getting to him before he sprang into action. In the NFL, there isn't much time to think. You have to read and react, and Simmons' ability to read is still developing because of the position swap. The reason I have faith that he will get better in this area is because he's shown outstanding instincts in scenarios where he was flexed out. Simmons has played in that role on plenty of occasions while he was a safety, and if things start clicking for him when he is lined up inside, we should see similar results. Outside of that, there are some occasional mental lapses. Simmons will randomly get complacent in zone coverage, leaving him flat-footed. He will also get too caught up trying to blow up an unexpecting target and forget to wrap up. Still, in big games, this hasn't been an issue.

Draft Stock

The easiest way to explain this is supply and demand. There are 32 teams in the NFL trying to get their hands on three-down linebackers and not enough to go around. The skillset in which Simmons possesses is exactly what teams want, and that means he won't last long whether it's 2020 or 2021. To make him even more valuable, his size and athleticism make him a spot-on match to take on tight ends in coverage, which is even more rare in the NFL. Also, if you haven't read the quotes about why he chose not to enter the 2019 NFL Draft, I'd strongly recommend it because it speaks to his competitive nature. Simmons strives to be the best player at his position and puts in the work to do it. His coaches rave about him, and the commitment he made to the position-switch is a testament to his team-first attitude. When you add all this together, Simmons is poised for an even bigger year in 2019, and that stamp a top-10 label to him.

Player Comparison

There aren't many players like him. There are some similarities to Deone Bucannon's skillset, but he should measure between two and three inches taller than Bucannon with much longer arms. Still, Bucannon had the athleticism of a safety with a built that was better suited for linebacker and played a versatile role with Arizona when he entered the NFL. If I am getting creative, imagine a mix of Anthony Barr and Bucannon. The first time I saw Simmons, he was playing on the strong side, and I thought he was a more-slender version of Barr. However, the more I watched, the more I realized the build was more similar than the skillset. Still, I like to have fun, and if you mixed Barr's length with Bucannon's skill set, we might get a glimpse of what Simmons can be in the NFL.

Games Evaluated

vs. Texas A&M (9-8-18)
vs. Georgia Tech (9-22-18)
vs. Syracuse (9-29-18)
vs. Wake Forest (10-6-18)
vs. NC State (10-20-18)
vs. South Carolina (11-24-18)
vs. Pittsburgh (12-1-18)
vs. Notre Dame (12-29-18)
vs. Alabama (1-17-19)

Notes from Film

  • Tall, lengthy build for a linebacker/safety.
  • Not the most sudden athlete, but moves very well for his size. Linebacker will be his home in the NFL, although he could add more weight to his frame and lower half.
  • Early on, it appears he is comfortable taking on blocks and forcing the ball carrier to either run to his help or challenge him to the sideline.
  • Not bad in coverage for a linebacker, and once again his size (more specifically his long arms) aids him in this area. A great example was him covering Miles Boykin of Notre Dame.
  • Has no problems playing off blocks. Appears comfortable extending his arms to the blocker and keeping his eyes in the backfield. Long arms make it easy for him to disengage and does so with good timing.
  • Spends a lot of time flexed out over a tight end or slot receiver but when he is lined up in the box, he fills run lanes like a linebacker. Plays low and doesn't just absorb the shot. He'll deliver a blow.
  • I like the way he flows to the ball. He initiates contact and plays through the blocker as opposed to running around them. Stays on balance in pursuit and has a keen understanding of angles. Keeps the ball in his sights. Most importantly, his feet don't stop.
  • Will occasionally play too high in the open field. Texas A&M's Trayveon Williams beat him clean in a situation where Simmons was standing straight up. With his length, he will be a tough player to get around if he lines up the ball carrier and breaks down.
  • Good aggressive tackle in the open field against Syracuse. Was lined up against the second receiver on the three-receiver side. Both inside players ran slants, and the run back released into the flats and got a quick throw from the quarterback. Simmons read it quick and did not hesitate. Tackles are missed in this scenario all the time because of the slightest hesitations.
  • Not exactly smooth flipping his hips but I have to give him credit. He times it appropriately so he can gather his balance and stay within range of the receiver to make a play. Very good understanding of how to play with a limitation that is probably never going to be a strength for him. This is something linebackers have to do. I can't name many linebackers that are more than adequate at everything a three-down linebacker needs to do. In this case, Simmons does well at minimizing his limitations.
  • Has to be careful not to get too caught up in delivering a blow that he forgets to wrap up.
  • He can also get caught up getting complacent in zone coverage. He is more than capable of handling this task at the NFL level, but there are times where he plays high, his feet are less active, and he is not ready to break on the throw. In some of Clemson's more intense matchups, this was not an issue. Just watch the South Carolina tape where he was shot out of cannon every time the ball entered the air in his vicinity. He has to bring that intensity on every snap no matter the score or the opponent.
  • If he's going to be someone coaches trust on a blitz, he has to develop a plan. It's easy to sack the quarterback when you come unaccounted for, but that's not skill, it's luck. He has to work on getting to the quarterback when he is accounted for, and right now he doesn't have much of a plan or even a go-to move.
  • Outstanding job of switching on a crossing route at the goal line against South Carolina. He was covering the second receiver on the three-receiver side. His man slow-played an out route knowing he was the read for Simmons in an attempt to give the outside receiver a chance to get behind him on the slant-corner. This play is designed to cause Simmons to hesitate, rendering him useless against either route and forcing the outside corner to make a decision on who to guard, the out or the slant-corner. However, Simmons sniffed it out in time and was in position to force the incompletion to the slant-corner. I'm not saying a perfect throw wouldn't have beat him, but it was the right route combination for the coverage they were running, and he made a good enough play to force the quarterback to make a perfect throw near the pylon. The quarterback didn't. That's about as good as you can play it.
  • Two plays after the aforementioned play, they went after him on third down with a corner route, and he stuck to the receiver's hip causing another incompletion. That goal-line stand in coverage is going to have a lot of scouts drooling over his ability to be a three-down linebacker.
  • Saw him play a new role against Notre Dame as a spy for the quarterback. Made several plays in that role.
  • Really closed the year out strong in four big games (South Carolina, Pitt in the ACC Championship, Notre Dame CFP Semi, Alabama CFP Championship)

    Scouting Video Courtesy of ClensonNation

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