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NFL Draft 2020: Where Expert Mocks Have Isaiah Simmons, Top Defensive Prospects

Theo SalaunContributor IIIMarch 15, 2020

FILE - In this Oct. 12, 2019, file photo, Clemson's Isaiah Simmons (11) and Denzel Johnson react after making a defensive play during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida State, in Clemson, S.C. Simmons was selected to The Associated Press All-Atlantic Coast Conference football team, and named Defensive Player of the Year, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro, File)
Richard Shiro/Associated Press

The top two picks in the 2020 NFL draft are all but cemented, but the rest is muddied. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow is destined to go No. 1 to the Cincinnati Bengals, and Ohio State edge-rusher Chase Young will go No. 2 to Washington.

If you have a piercing premonition that one of those two will not go in the top two, then feel free to make big money in Vegas.

As for the remainder of the first round, the draft is hard to predict. There are stellar wide receivers, impressive offensive linemen, few high-upside quarterbacks and, unlike 2019, a limited selection of standout defenders after Young. Of those players, Clemson's linebacker (or, more appropriately, moneybacker) Isaiah Simmons is the most intriguing and a veritable microcosm of this year's drafting dilemmas.

Simmons is an obvious top-10 pick, but his landing spot varies depending on who you ask. Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah, Auburn defensive lineman Derrick Brown and Florida cornerback C.J. Henderson all have the upside to push past Simmons' unprecedented versatility for teams more interested in solidifying a positional group.

We analyzed four 2020 mock drafts from four of the 10 most accurate NFL mock-drafters from 2019, per FantasyPros' expert rankings, to ascertain the consensus surrounding Simmons and the nation's other top defenders.

Of those experts, Walter Football's Charlie Campbell and Walter Cherepinsky headed the list thanks to excellent player rankings and estimated positional picks for each team. We juxtaposed Walter Football's mock draft with Evan Silva's (No. 3 in 2019 accuracy), Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz's (No. 5 in 2019) and Scott Smith's (No. 9 in 2019).

In every mock analyzed, Simmons goes anywhere from No. 7 to No. 9. And in all of them, he's joined in the top 10 by Okudah and Brown—with Okudah going earlier in every single one. The question of who will draft Simmons is a question of who will sacrifice the certain upgrade of a key defensive positional group for unprecedentedly versatile upside and its risks.

To use a word that has already been beaten dead in sports vernacular, Simmons is different.

Technically, he was a safety in 2017 and then a linebacker in 2019, winning the Butkus Award for the nation's best linebacker to prove it. But in reality, he defies labels. Last season, Simmons played 200-plus snaps at safety and cornerback, 100-plus snaps at inside and outside linebacker, 71 snaps as a pass-rusher and 17 snaps as a perimeter corner.

The Arizona Cardinals helped to revolutionize aggressive defensive versatility in 2015 by debuting Deone Bucannon as the league's first moneybacker. A safety-linebacker hybrid, Bucannon started 16 games and racked up multiple deflected passes (three), sacks (three, with six quarterback hits) and an interception on top of his 112 tackles (11 for a loss).

Bucannon, at 6'1" and 211 pounds with a 4.49 40-yard dash, reinvented the mold for defensive innovators to experiment with.

Simmons is the new archetype. At 6'4", 238 pounds, Simmons piled up 104 tackles (16.5 for a loss), eight sacks, three interceptions and eight deflected passes in 2019. And it's not just his acuity for making plays; the 21-year-old demolished the combine with a 4.39-second 40-yard dash, a 39-inch vertical and an 11-foot broad jump (the first player since at least 2003 to hit those marks while weighing 230-plus pounds, per NFL Media's Chad Reuter).

Of the teams drafting after Washington in the top 10, the Los Angeles Chargers and Miami Dolphins are both expected to draft quarterbacks. That leaves the Detroit Lions, New York Giants, Carolina Panthers, Arizona Cardinals, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns to go after a defender or one of this year's top offensive linemen.

Every expert has the Giants and Browns selecting offensive linemen. And each one has the Lions drafting Okudah.

The Ohio State product is in a tier of his own among cornerbacks this year and a higher-esteemed corner than any seen in 2019's draft. At 6'1", 205 pounds with a 4.48-second 40-yard dash, the Buckeye's athleticism keeps up with the reputation his coverage skills have garnered.

Okudah is a low-risk pick with long-term upside who perfectly fills the void Detroit is expected to have at corner with Darius Slay on his way out. That leaves Carolina and Arizona as the likeliest landing spots for Simmons and Brown, as each expert puts the two in that Nos. 7-9 range.

Carolina could use either, with Brown usurping 2019's Gerald McCoy or taking up Luke Kuechly's mantle. Arizona needs an offensive lineman but could pair Brown with Chandler Jones after opting not to pick Nick Bosa in 2019 or use Simmons as a bigger Swiss Army knife alongside the relentless Budda Baker.

While Jacksonville could use Simmons if he drops there, following the scrambling of their linebacking corps, the Jaguars could also opt to fill a recently opened hole on their squad and choose 2020's second-best cornerback: CJ Henderson (as Silva and Smith have mocked).

Okudah, Brown and even Henderson all have something that Simmons does not: a niche (and the safety that a long-term positional group upgrade comes with). Simmons could just be an NFL tweener, a jack of all trades who's not specialized enough to make a difference at any one position against adults.

But he was impossible to disregard in Clemson's games, as the lanky behemoth sporting a svelte No. 11 appeared to be lining up and making plays from the correct, albeit different, position on every single play. Clemson's unicorn prospect won't make it out of the top nine.

And if the corner-needy Lions—or even the offensive-line-needy Giants—decide they would rather gamble on upgrading their entire defensive scheme at once, he may rise past the other, surer defensive prospects and into the top four.

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