The Detroit Lions need help on both sides of the ball heading into the 2020 season. But that’s not saying much for a team that went 3-12-1 and has the third overall pick in the NFL Draft. In particular, though, they could use a boost and a true playmaker on defense.
In 2019, the Lions ranked 31st in overall defense, 26th in points allowed, 21st in rushing defense, last in the league in passing defense and tied for 30th in total sacks. So it’s suffice to say that their defense, which is supposed to be head coach Matt Patricia’s specialty, needs some work.
One player that could make that difference is Clemson junior linebacker Isaiah Simmons.
As a sophomore in 2018, he led the Tigers in tackles with 89 on their way to winning the national championship. As a junior last year, he racked up 107 tackles, 16 for a loss, eight sacks and three interceptions in 15 starts on his way to winning the Butkus Award, which is given to the nation’s top linebacker.
So let’s take a look at what Simmons brings to the table:
Athleticism: Simmons is a 6’4″ physical freak, which is a compliment. He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in February, which was far and away the fastest time for his position group. His 39″ vertical jump tied for third and his 11′ broad jump was second best among linebackers. So to put it bluntly, Simmons, who also weighs 238 pounds, is a specimen that has the tools that should translate nicely at the next level.
Versatility: Simmons played a hybrid-linebacker position for Dabo Swinney at Clemson. Aside from linebacker, he took snaps at safety and even slot corner. He has the speed and size, as I mentioned above, to cover just about any running back, wide receiver or tight end. His sideline-to-sideline range is elite and his recovery speed allows him to cover a wide variety of routes with relative ease when in coverage. Simmons also could be just what coordinators are looking for in zone-reads when spying on mobile quarterbacks.
Instincts: One of the downsides of Simmons lining up at so many different positions is that his football IQ at them isn’t great. His instincts near the line of scrimmage are a work in progress and he occasionally will take bad angles on ball carriers. He has also can get out of position in certain zone coverage schemes when in a position he isn’t fully familiar with.
Shedding Blocks: Simmons doesn’t like taking on blocks and can have trouble with tight ends. His size may play a part in this as he will need to fill out a bit more at the next level to handle blocks of bigger, stronger NFL players, especially tight ends. This will most likely materialize when utilized as an edge rusher. While he could play more of the safety position in the NFL, his block shedding is still something to be desired.
I think Simmons would be a great fit for Detroit and Patricia. Their biggest weaknesses last year was getting pressure on the quarterback and the play of their linebackers. He could immediately improve both of these situations but he will also give new defensive coordinator Cory Undlin more freedom in his game-planning. While taking him at three may be a bit of a reach, Simmons would be a day-one starter in Detroit and contribute in many ways.
All stats and measurements are courtesy of ESPN.com and NFL.com.