Fifth Round: 138th Pick
With so many terrific defenders coming out of LSU this year (including fellow cornerback and former teammate Tyrann Mathieu), players like Tharold Simon get lost in the mix.
Simon is not near the same caliber as the last two elite cornerback prospects to come out of LSU (Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne), but Simon is an intriguing prospect in his own right that should be worth a late-round draft pick.
Simon has good instincts and awareness when the ball is in the air, evidenced by his team-leading four interceptions in his first year as a full-time starter. When he reads the play correctly, Simon drives on the ball and has the catching radius to make a play on it more often than not.
An aggressive player in all facets of the game, Simon is willing to throw his body into contact and make game-changing hits. His large frame allows him to disengage blocks and help set the edge in the run game.
Simon looks the part coming off the bus, but he lacks the fluid movement skills teams are looking for in NFL-ready cornerbacks. He has some messy footwork that cost him valuable time in his backpedal. He struggles in press coverage in large part due to his poor balance and messy hand placement.
Because of his aggressiveness, Simon will find himself looking into the backfield for too long, causing him to lose sight of his man. He is a poor situational player, often drawing costly penalties and giving his opponents too much cushion in short-yardage situations. He can get caught committing too much body weight to tying up a receiver, causing him to lunge out of position.
More so than anything else, Simon is going to get drafted for his sheer length and size. His 6'2" height and 32.75" wing span make him an attractive prospect in an age where larger cornerbacksin the mold of Richard Sherman are becoming more sought after.
After running a mediocre 4.51 at the combine, there are serious concerns about Simon's long speed and ability to recover, which limits his role in an NFL defensive backfield and could possibly lead to a move to safety.
He did improve his time at his pro day, but the fact that there was such a large jump in his time raises plenty of questions as to the validity of either time:
Tharold Simon just made himself a lot of money. 6'3'' CB just ran 4.39 in the 40 at #LSU Pro Day— Matt Moscona (@MattMoscona) March 27, 2013
Simon raised some eyebrows when he declared after just one full season as a starter (especially with his technique issues), but he was probably motivated by the fact that he has a child to provide for.
In addition, he, along with two other teammates, were suspended for one game after they tested positive for synthetic marijuana in October of 2011.
Worst of all, he was one of the LSU players blacklisted by the team's trainer:
Les Miles tough love motivation: twitter.com/SEC_Logo/statu…— The SEC Logo (@SEC_Logo) December 28, 2012
Simon played a combination of man and zone coverage at LSU, but was used in man slightly more often—particularly in his senior season as one of the starting cornerbacks.
Playing the Ball
One of the best aspects of Simon's game is his catching radius, which allows him to catch or knock down passes a typical corner would not be able to reach. He times his jumps extremely well and knows how to wrap his arm around a receiver's shoulder to knock down passes from behind.
His combination of length and timing allows him to make plays on the ball after getting beat earlier in the play.
Against the Run
Simon is a very aggressive player by nature, which tends to translate well in the run game. Simon is not only a willing hitter, but he takes good angles and wraps up well. His size and length allow him to disengage blockers and set the edge.
At times, Simon appears to be in control, but he has far too many technical flaws in his game. Because of his relatively stiff hips he struggles to turn and run with receivers, with his poor balance causing him to fall over himself far too often.
While a very aggressive and feisty player, Simon loses control of his movements in press-man coverage. He overreacts to subtle "set-up" movements by more polished college route-runners. He has trouble keeping his knees bent, reverting to an upright stance far too quickly.
Simon was matched up with DeAndre Hopkins for the majority of the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. On this play, Simon is beat off the snap, loses track of his receiver and never has a chance to make a play on the ball:
If Simon is going to stay at cornerback, using him in zone coverage is the best way to hide his technical limitations despite the fact that he has extensive experience in man coverage as LSU.
While he does have a tendency to keep his eyes in the backfield reading the quarterback, he is usually able to explode out of his stance and make a play on the ball when he keeps the play in front of him.
Another year at LSU would have done Simon well, as his technique is inconsistent at best. His hand placement is spotty and his footwork can be an absolute mess at times. This causes him to be unbalanced and makes him fall over himself far too often, which leads to penalties.
Take a look at this 2012 play against Texas A&M. Simon is lined up in press-man coverage.
Initially, Simon actually gets good initial hand placement. However, his balance is off, causing his footwork to go awry. Instead of mirroring his opponent, his body is going in the opposite direction.
This causes Simon to slip, losing his hand placement, and thus, his position on the receiver.
His lack of recovery speed allows a catch-and-run, with him nowhere near the play.
With only one full year experience as a starter, Simon has a chance to improve in this area with his ideal frame, but it will take some time before he is ready to be used comfortably in game situations.
Future Role/Scheme Versatility
Because of his lack of proper technique and average top-end speed, Simon will struggle mightily if he is expected to start as a man cover corner early in his career.
While he could be used in a zone Cover-2 system, in which his speed is minimized and his physicality is welcomed, teams should consider moving him to safety.
His terrific ball skills and tackling angles (in accordance with his average speed) make him a good candidate for the position. Plus, his size and length will allow him to cover tight ends when necessary.