Brady Podloski | April 15th, 2020
Early this week, I conducted a mock draft for the Lions and gave them Jeffrey Okudah, third overall (because there were no trade backs). For the mock, I found that the players from rounds two and three were the fundamental building blocks. You can find the mock draft here by clicking here. Overall, I would give them the same haul if they drafted Isaiah Simmons instead of Okudah because I believe Amani Oruwariye can step up with third-round pick Troy Pride Jr. Primarily this is a short article on why the Detroit Lions should draft Simmons over Okudah.
Imagine, Mitchell Trubisky starts the season on a windy afternoon in week one. The Bears play the Lions in a serious divisional match, where Trubisky somehow got the nod to start the year. It’s the fourth quarter, and the lions are down by three points; it’s second down and nine yards to go, in an obvious passing situation. Trubisky drops back and throws, but it’s underthrown (again!), into the outstretched arms of first-round pick Simmons, who sprints to the opposition 30-yard line, setting up a game-winning drive.
But before we can picture this defensive unit on the field, we have to understand some factors that went into the decision to draft Simmons over Okudah. Simmons could be the hybrid player that changes the defensive game plan week to week under head coach Matt Patricia and defensive coordinator Cory Undlin. In one line, it can be said that Simmons doesn’t just change the way the defense plays; he will shift how the offense game plans to beat the defense.
Elite Athlete & Tight End Eraser
Simmons is 6’4, 238 lbs. The typical size for an old school linebacker. However, the untypical thing is that he ran a 4.39 forty yard dash. Simmons’ freakish athleticism, mixed with his prototypical size, allows him to get sideline to sideline with pure force. His elite athleticism makes him a threat to be everywhere and anywhere the ball goes.
Moreover, in the modern NFL, tight ends are becoming an increasingly significant part of the offense, as teams look for more mismatch weapons. Simmons has the agility to match up with tight ends who are often five to six inches taller than safeties. Safeties are preferred due to their athleticism, but with Simmons, you gain the option of erasing an opponent’s tight ends. While Simmons is not elite at coverage yet, the potential is there to learn better techniques.
His man coverage skills are great too. He stays glued to the TE on this play, but needs to turn his back to make a play on the ball. pic.twitter.com/kVOFjDUZhP— NFL Film Review (@NFLFilmReview) April 2, 2020
Quarterback Spy and Scramble
The NFL is shifting as offenses find more ways to advance the ball, leaving defenses with more needs to match up against the progressions. This is apparent in the rushing quarterback, who is quickly becoming a significant part of many teams. For the 2020 schedule, the Lions face rushing threats in Gardner Minshew (344 rushing yards in 2019), Deshaun Watson (413 yards), Trubisky (193 yards), and Kyler Murray (544 yards).
However, when teams get to the playoffs, they must go up against elite rushing quarterbacks such as Lamar Jackson (1,206 rushing yards) and Josh Allen (510 rushing yards). In order to match up and prevent the additional rushing threat, the Lions need an elite athlete to spy the quarterback. Obtaining Simmons allows the Lions to gain defensive weapons which can match up anywhere and squeeze the angles to lessen the yards the quarterback gains.
Simmons is lined up at the SAM LB position. He is the perfect player to defend the read option concept that Lamar Jackson and the Ravens have revitalized. Simmons is able to read the exchange and make the open field tackle. pic.twitter.com/4LGp62qAcv— NFL Film Review (@NFLFilmReview) April 2, 2020
Snap Versatility & Blitzing
Simmons has played everywhere in his college career, and most see him sliding into a linebacker role. He has the quickness to get from one side of the field to the other to stop the run. Simmons isn’t only explosive, he is a sure tackler who stays low – who drives through tackles – and squeezes angles that prevent significant chunk plays. Simmons is a weapon during outside blitzes, where he overpowers running backs and wins with speed and agility against tight ends. On delayed stunts and interior blitzes where Simmons goes against tackles and guards, he currently lacks pass-rushing moves. However, if he learns functional pass-rushing moves from veteran Jamie Collins, it would go a long way to assisting Simmons in becoming an elite defensive weapon.
Thread on Isaiah Simmons:— NFL Film Review (@NFLFilmReview) April 2, 2020
Simmons is redefines being a “position-less player”. Lining up at ILB, OLB, Slot, Safety and even the DE, Simmons is able to use his rare size and athleticism to be versatile in his usage and allow defenses to disguise their tendencies. pic.twitter.com/faz0REJsBj
When Simmons drops into zone coverage, he has the length and jumping ability to block passing lanes. He is intelligent and has fundamental play recognition, where he can snuff out a screen and understand where a run is going to. While Simmons may struggle to begin in man coverage and block shedding, it is a time-consuming transition for most defensive players. His versatility, freakish traits, and intelligence may cut the development curve.
You can trust Isaiah Simmons as the last man standing at safety. He is a very sure-handed tackler. pic.twitter.com/C1q2YIIFXW— NFL Film Review (@NFLFilmReview) April 2, 2020
Lastly, Jarrad Davis is going into the last year of his contract, and Jahlani Tavai is still improving, yet that doesn’t mean Simmons will replace them. Tavai, Davis, and new signings Reggie Ragland and Collins can be on the field as Simmons has the versatility to play safety, slot cornerback, edge, and outside corner. He will need Patricia to tailor the defensive assignments to scheme against offenses.
Where Would I Play him?
I would tailor his assignments to the offensive weapons he goes against. I’ll use examples of how I would utilize him against the Packers, Vikings, and Bears. For the Packers, I would have him cover Aaron Jones (when he’s on the field), and when Jones isn’t on the field, I would drop him in short zones for all the screens and boot actions. Then in the fourth quarter, I send him on a delayed blitz when I know its a play-action boot.
For the Vikings, I play run-heavy with Ragland, Collins, and Tavai and four big base defensive linemen. I play Simmons close to the line in zone coverage to discourage screens, and short yard passes. I would have him cover tight ends and Dalvin Cook in man coverage. Finally, against the Bears, I have him drop into shallow zone coverage and pick off Trubisky in the same scenario listed above!
Simmons allows defenses to play to the strength of the offense each week. Simmons, if placed with the right coach, can become an elite talent who sets the standard for new positionless defenders. He has the potential to remove significant pieces of an offense through coverage and spying but also has the versatility to play the run and blitz. Simmons has the ability and talent to be one of the best defenders in the NFL if appropriately used. To conclude, Simmons isn’t a linebacker; he’s a multi-position defensive weapon.
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images