Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons was considered the most versatile defender in this year’s draft with the potential to line up pretty much everywhere. The Arizona Cardinals couldn’t pass up him up at No. 8 overall. Here are Simmons’ odds at Mybookie to win 2020 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year as well as the Cardinals’ over/under win total.
Some teams oddly weren’t high on Simmons because they weren’t sure whether he would play safety or linebacker in the NFL. That’s a slap to Simmons’ talent because he can play both. Shoot, he also played defensive end and cornerback at Clemson. Arizona was thrilled he was there at No. 8.
Simmons redshirted his freshman season at the school in 2016. In limited action in 2017, he had 49 tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack, five pass breakups and a caused fumble in 258 snaps over 14 games. He averaged a tackle every 6.1 snaps, first on the team (minimum 100 snaps).
He transitioned from safety in 2017 to the starting nickel/sam linebacker position in 2018. Simmons was credited with a team-high 97 tackles (9.5 for loss), seven pass breakups, three forced fumbles, 1.5 sacks and one interception (which he returned for a touchdown) in 790 snaps over 15 games (14 starts). He also posted a team-high 11 special teams tackles.
In the College Football Playoff semifinal win over Notre Dame, Simmons had five tackles including a half-sack as well as two pass breakups as Clemson held the Irish to just three points. In the national championship win over Alabama, Simmons had nine tackles, including one for loss.
Last year, Simmons won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. He was the first Clemson player to ever win it and got 29 of 35 first-place votes. Simmons was the first ACC player to collect the award since Boston College’s Luke Kuechly in 2011.
On the season, Simmons was credited with team-high 107 tackles (16.0 for loss), 8.0 sacks, 10 pass breakups, three interceptions (returned for 42 yards), a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 818 snaps over 15 games (all starts). He also became the sixth unanimous All-American in school history, joining Terry Kinard (1982), Gaines Adams (2006), C.J. Spiller (2009), Da’Quan Bowers (2010) and Christian Wilkins (2018).
Simmons was as only the third FBS player since 2005 to record at least 100 tackles, at least 16 tackles for loss, at least eight sacks and multiple interceptions in a season, becoming the first player to do so since Buffalo’s Khalil Mack in 2013.
Simmons ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash, posted a 39-inch vertical and hit an 11-foot broad jump at the NFL Combine. His 4.39-second time was the third-fastest time for any off-ball linebacker in combine history. Additionally, his 11-foot broad jump tied him for the fifth best distance of all combine LBs since 2006. That Simmons managed all that in a 6-foot-4 and 238-pound frame makes him an athletic marvel.
During his college career, Simmons was relied upon to not only drop back in pass coverage and deal with talented wide receivers, but also to come up in run-support and blitz the passer. Simmons, the 2019 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, logged 303 snaps at cornerback, 218 at safety, 160 at outside linebacker, and 121 at inside linebacker last year. He compares stylistically to a bigger but less agile version of Derwin James as a versatile safety/linebacker hybrid.
So where will he play in the NFL? Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said that Simmons will primarily play linebacker.
“Our thought process, is if he is really able to focus on one position, having the flexibility to still move around, but really focus on one, what does that look like?” Kingsbury said. “And the sky can really be the limit.” Cardinals GM Steve Keim referred to the 21-year-old as a “Swiss Army knife” on draft night.