Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons Declares for 2020 NFL Draft After CFP Title Loss

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2020

Clemson's Isaiah Simmons defends during an NCAA college football game against Boston College Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
Richard Shiro/Associated Press

Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons announced that he will forgo his senior season and enter the 2020 NFL draft.

The 6'4", 230-pound Kansas native started his career at safety for the Tigers, registering 133 tackles, three sacks, an interception and a defensive touchdown in his freshman and sophomore seasons. He transitioned to linebacker this past year and didn't miss a beat, posting 104 tackles, eight sacks and three interceptions.

He helped Clemson go 14-1 and reach the College Football Playoff National Championship, where the Tigers lost to LSU.

Simmons' level of production has made him a likely top-10 prospect in April's NFL draft.

His positional versatility helps as well. ESPN's Field Yates outlined where Simmons took his 2019 defensive snaps:

B/R's Matt Miller described Simmons as a "tweener," noting that such a designation was considered a "dirty word in scouting circles" a decade ago but now is more often used as a "compliment for a player who shows versatility."

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Miller continued:

"Given his experience at safety—remember him as the guy frustrating the Alabama offense as the Tigers won a national championship last year—Simmons has shown he can line up in the slot as a cover man, or he can get in a single-high look and take away the center of the field. He's also excelling at linebacker this season, showing the toughness, instincts and physicality to stop the run [and] make zone drops in coverage."

Speed is more important than ever in the NFL game, especially at the linebacker position, as more plodding players often are removed on obvious passing downs. A player like Simmons should be able to play all three downs, however, with sideline-to-sideline speed that should aid him defending both the run and the pass.

Linebackers with the speed, strength and athleticism to cover tight ends, running backs and even wide receivers in a pinch are highly valuable in the modern NFL. Simmons checks off those boxes.

Granted, teams will need to carve out a role for Simmons. He won't make sense in every scheme. But people doubted that Deion Jones would be effective in the middle of a defense before the Atlanta Falcons drafted him, given he was undersized for the position at 6'1" and 222 pounds, and the 2016 second-round pick out of LSU has become one of the league's best linebackers.

Jones may not be an exact comp for Simmons, but the Clemson linebacker has that level of upside. He has the chance to become a true game-changer for an NFL defense, and it would be a shock if he wasn't a top-10 pick.