Former Washington Huskie Shaq Thompson and former Michigan Wolverine Jabrill Peppers had much in common coming out of college.
Both were drafted in the first round at pick No. 25 overall – Thompson by Carolina in 2015, Peppers by Cleveland in 2017 (Peppers was later traded to the New York Giants.)
And both came with question marks about how they’d fit in at the next level because they were considered a linebacker/safety hybrid.
Since then, the two have enjoyed solid, albeit unspectacular, seasons as starters, with Thompson at linebacker and Peppers at safety.
Look for those two to serve as the template for NFL draft evaluators when it comes to Clemson hybrid safety/linebacker Isaiah Simmons.
All three players were used as chess pieces on the field during their college days, serving as rovers who could play all over the field. Thompson’s and Peppers’ size, combined with their athleticism, made that possible. Thompson is 6-feet, 230 pounds, while Peppers is 5-11, 213.
Once in the pros, their sizes led to more natural, permanent positions: Thompson as a linebacker, Peppers at strong safety.
Simmons, though, has something those two did not possess: at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, the junior also has great size.
And that’s why it remains a mystery as to where Simmons will wind up playing at the next level — or how high he’ll be drafted.
“He’s an incredibly athletic defender with the ability to impact the game in a variety of ways,” writes Tony Pauline in Pro Football Network’s latest risers and sliders report. “I don’t believe he’s a prospect for everyone, as Simmons is a bit of a ‘tweener – a linebacker with safety size. Even with that being the case, a creative defensive coordinator will have a field day using Simmons.”
Isaiah Simmons might be an even better version of Derwin James.
Not bad when you can trust a guy to both cover the slot and set the edge. He does the latter here with a 5-yard TFL. That combination of length and speed is how you’d make a modern day defender in a lab. pic.twitter.com/XVwTX9i7ST
— Travis Wingfield (@WingfieldNFL) November 30, 2019
Simmons started out as a safety, then transitioned into the SAM linebacker position. These days, Clemson uses him wherever they see a potential matchup advantage.
Shakin the Southland of the Bleacher Report recently explained Simmons role and why the team can be versatile on defense. Simply put, the SAM/nickel position on Clemson’s defense “might be the most difficult position on defense.”
From the feature on Simmons:
“At the college level, usually your nickel/Sam is either a plus coverage player and a good enough run defender, or a plus run defender and a good enough player in coverage. Simmons is elite at both. He entered 2019 a pre-season All-American and has more than met expectations. It’s not a question of if he’ll be a first round pick; most project Simmons in the top ten.”
The main On the Clock Fanspeak-Steve big board ranks Simmons as the No. 13 overall player and has him listed as a linebacker. The Fanspeak-Jake big board also ranks Simmons as the No. 13 overall player but lists him as a safety.
Check back Tuesday afternoon for the latest On the Clock big board update.