INDIANAPOLIS – Every article of clothing that prospects wear at the Scouting Combine is screen-printed with their position. This week, Isaiah Simmons dons "LB" on his chest as he traverses the miles of indoor walkways at the Indianapolis Convention Center, bouncing from checkpoint to checkpoint on a jam-packed schedule.
But what should it really say? "DEFENSE," Simmons said.
There you have it. His position is DEFENSE.
According to Pro Football Focus, Simmons, who measured 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds at the combine, played more than 100 snaps at five different positons for Clemson in 2019. He lined up 299 times at inside linebacker, 262 at slot cornerback, 132 at free safety, 116 at outside linebacker, and 100 at strong safety.
The Giants need defensive playmakers -- plural – so perhaps Simmons could fill more than one void. As free agency approaches, the team began its re-structuring Wednesday with the release of veteran linebackers Alec Ogletree and Kareem Martin.
Analysts have frequently projected Simmons to the Giants at No. 4 in mock drafts, a testament to the shift away from "positionless" as a pejorative term. In today's NFL, it is coveted.
"I think it's really beneficial for me," Simmons said. "I know years ago it wasn't good to be a positionless guy. 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."
Simmons added, "I like an interception just as much as I like getting a sack. I don't really think I have a favorite."
Simmons credited Tyrann Mathieu as the turning point for players of their ilk. With similar speculation about what position he would play at the next level – safety or cornerback, in his case – the Cardinals drafted Mathieu in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He bounced from Arizona to Houston and to Kansas City, where he helped the Chiefs win a Super Bowl earlier this month. Mathieu was named first-team All-Pro for the second time in his career in 2019.
"Personally, I model my game after a couple people," Simmons said. "If I have to go look at film of somebody to get something, it would be Von Miller just for pass rush, Jalen Ramsey for man techniques and Tyrann Mathieu just because he plays around everywhere as well. I take bits and pieces from all of them and kind of throw them into my game."
His game also includes the ability to cover tight ends, a necessity in the modern game.
"If you know who George Kittle and Travis Kelce are, then that explains it all," Simmons said. "Stopping tight ends and linebackers playing man on running backs is -- the game's no longer a 250-pound linebacker. It's more guys that are able to run side to side and are able to cover. It's just a necessity now with the tight ends and running backs."
Overcoming the mental aspect was naturally the most difficult part of playing five different positions. Thankfully at Clemson, the back seven of the defense all meet together, so Simmons wouldn't have to go from room to room to room to room to room.
"Having to know what everybody else has to do, that was the most complicated thing I had to deal with," he said. "But I learn everything very fast and I feel like that's what really benefitted me and helped me play at a high level."
At his introductory press conference, Giants coach Joe Judge said, "Our philosophy is going to be to put pressure on the opponent to prepare for multiple things." The Tigers did just that by lining up Simmons all over the field, and their record speaks for itself.
Clemson comes off back-to-back national championship appearances, winning it all in 2018. The previous year, Simmons transitioned from safety to the starting nickel/sam linebacker position. Simmons went on to win the 2019 Butkus Award as the nation's top linebacker, the first player to do so in program history. Still, he wears a bracelet that says "Humble over Hype."
While Judge and new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham might value his versatility, they are also looking for leaders.
"I always preach to the younger guys that leadership doesn't have an age on it," said Simmons, a team captain in 2019. "You don't have to be a veteran, you don't have to be a starter to be a leader. A leader is just somebody who does things in the right way, even when nobody's looking."
At the combine, everyone is looking.
View photos from the college career of Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons
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