Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons a linebacker without a position

Credit: Christian Petersen

Credit: Christian Petersen

Clemson standout Isaiah Simmons basically is a player without an NFL position.

He can rush as a defensive end, hit like a linebacker and cover like a safety. That’s why he’ll hear his name called among the top 10 players selected in the NFL draft April 23-25.

He’s not likely to make it past Carolina, which has the seventh overall pick.

“I know years ago it wasn’t good to be a position-less guy,” Simmons said. “But now it’s become a benefit for me just because of all the versatility I’ll be able to do, play linebacker, play safety, whatever it is, I feel like it just helps me out.”

» MORE: Top 10 linebackers in the draft

Primarily listed as a linebacker, Simmons compares his versatility with Kansas City defensive back Tyrann Mathieu.

“He bounces around, he can play anywhere in the back seven,” Simmons said.

Simmons didn’t just line up at different spots for decoration. He made plays wherever he went and once lined up at five different positions during one game.

Last season, he recorded 107 tackles, 16 tackles for losses, eight sacks, three interceptions, 13 pass breakups and a forced fumble.

“I like an interception just as much as I like getting a sack,” Simmons said. “I don’t really think I have a favorite.”

Simmons also is a student of the NFL game.

“The game is evolving so. The name of the game now is stopping tight ends, so something has to be done to stop these Travis Kelces and George Kittles out there,” Simmons said.

Simmons guarded some tight ends while at Clemson.

“(New Falcons tight end) Hayden Hurst is really good,” Simmons said. “Cole Kmet from Notre Dame, he’s in this draft as well. He’s also very, very good.”

Some believe that Simmons in the most NFL-ready player in the draft.

“He can run, he can cover,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said. “He covers like a safety or a corner. He can get after the quarterback. He’s the one guy that you would just highlight because he’s so versatile.”

Simmons projects to stay on the move in the NFL.

“He can do anything,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “We had the same debate about Derwin James when he was coming out, where some teams had him as a (weakside) linebacker, some had him at a strong safety.”

James was drafted 17th overall by the Chargers in 2018 and promptly went to the Pro Bowl and made All-Pro as a rookie.

Simmons may continue to usher in the era of the position-less player.

“When you have offenses trying to manipulate personnel and get certain groups on the field, like the Ravens have done a masterful job where they have the tight ends that they can put you in certain sets and then split the tight ends out, you better have more versatile players that can do multiple things,” Jeremiah said.

More players such as Simmons may be the answer.

“You plug him into that defensive scheme, and week by week you can deploy him in different ways depending on what the strength of your opponent is,” Jeremiah said. “That’s why he has so much value. And putting these guys in little position boxes, I think that’s going to go away eventually.

“You’re just going to see getting your athletes on the field and deploying them in different ways on a week-by-week basis.”

Other top linebackers in the draft include LSU’s Patrick Queen, Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray, Wisconsin’s Zack Baun and Appalachian State’s Akeem Davis-Gaither.

“Patrick Queen is so athletic and explosive,” Jeremiah said. “Zack Baun from Wisconsin can give you versatility as somebody who can rush and cover.”

The Falcons lost linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, who was a fourth-round pick in 2016, in free agency. While they believe Foye Oluokun is ready to step in, they are still thin at linebacker.

“We’ll continue to build around the linebacker group,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. “We feel like through some of our acquisitions in free agency and potentially continuing to look in the draft that we’re going to be in a good spot.”

Falcons linebacker coach Jeff Ulbrich, who helped find Deion Jones, Duke Riley and Campbell, will be involved in the evaluations.

“In our minds, we have one of the best linebacker coaches in the league,” Dimitroff said. “Dan (Quinn) has a really good understanding of what he expects from this linebacker group. I think that’s -- again, continuing to look there, continuing to build will always be important for us at the linebacker spot.”

The Falcons like to see some intangibles to go along with the speed they covet at their linebacker spots.

“We know we need leaders there, as well, right, because that’s a position that we need to make sure someone has the leadership ability to not only get the guys going and get the morale up, but also make sure that they’re passing along the right information,” Dimitroff said.


Quarterbacks: Joe Burrow leads classTop 10
Running backs: Cam Akers' life lessonTop 10
Tight ends:  Harrison Bryant top prospect Top 10 
Guards/Centers:  Solomon Kindley a late-rounderTop 10 
Offensive tackles:  Austin Jackson's life lesson | Top 10 
Wide receivers: Jeudy or Lamb  | Top 10
Defensive tackles: Brown, Kinlaw stand outTop 10
Defensive ends: A 'generational' talentTop 10
Linebackers: Versatility is a mustTop 10
Part 10: Safeties
Part 11: Special Teams
Part 12: Cornerbacks


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