Isaiah Simmons is the best defensive player in the country. Not possibly the best or arguably the best, he is the best. Hands down, no question about it.
Today, as most expected, the ACC named Simmons the conference’s defensive player of the year. If you’ve watched Clemson play at all this season, this one was a no brainer. Accordingly, he won it in a landslide….. literally.
Kudos to the members of the ACC media, you all got this one right, and that’s exactly how the voting should have played out. Not to slight any other players in this league, but Simmons has been on a level all by himself in 2019.
As offenses have evolved over the years, the need for the hybrid type guys increased drastically. Guys who are big enough to play up on the line of scrimmage in run support, while at the same time fast enough to stay back and cover wide receivers, as well as the backs out of the backfield. These kind of players have become vital with the abundance of spread offenses, along with the increasing number of dual threat QBs. Isaiah Simmons is that, and then some.
Coming out of high school he was 6’4 and a slim 207 pounds. He desperately wanted to play for Arkansas and told former Razorbacks assistant coach Sam Pittman that if they offered, he’d commit on the spot. No offer came. Not even after Simmons ran a blistering 4.37 in the 40 during a workout on the Arkansas campus.
In high school Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons ran the 200-meter dash in 22.07 seconds.
To put that in perspective, Odell Beckham ran it in 22.31 seconds at the same age.
He’s bulked up since, but Simmons has a legit shot to run a sub 4.45 forty at 235 pounds.
— Carter Donnick (@CDonnick3) October 28, 2019
Not that he didn’t have offers, he did. The 3 star prospect had offers from across the country, just not the one he wanted, and Arkansas’s loss would be Clemson’s gain. Turns out, his second choice ended up being the best choice.
Simmons would redshirt his first season on campus, then spent his redshirt freshman season playing safety. Those two seasons were spent learning the system and growing into the 240 pound specimen he is today. With Dorian ‘O Daniel departing for the NFL after the 2017 season, Simmons would step into the role of the SAM linebacker (nickleback) in Brent Venables blitz heavy scheme. He’s never looked back, and has since blossomed into a sure fire first round pick.
In Brent Venables system, the SAM is arguably the most important piece of the defense, and Simmons is the ideal guy to man the position. It is probably the most difficult role to master on this Clemson defense and it generally takes time for a guy to fully grasp all the intricacies that go along with playing the position. Simmons was good in his first season as the SAM. Good enough that he was projected to be taken somewhere in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. That meant he had a decision to make.
“No, I’m not ok with being a second or third round draft pick. I’m a first round draft pick.” (Simmons to his dad when discussing his options)
Wanting to cement himself as a first rounder, Simmons returned for his redshirt junior season, and it has paid off for him in a big way. He has gone from being great, to being elite. He has improved his coverage skills and his ability to recognize what he’s seeing on the field.
Loving the various ways that Clemson is using LB/S Isaiah Simmons (6-4, 230) this year. A true position-less prospect. So much fun to watch. pic.twitter.com/6RfSCH25oY
— Jordan Reid (@JReidNFL) October 30, 2019
You will not find another player as versatile as Simmons, and Venables has taken full advantage of it. At times you can find him lined up at linebacker. Others you might find him lined up at safety. They’ve even used him at end in a Jack LB type role. He rushes the passer, is aggressive and effective in run support, and can cover the speediest of receivers. Look no further than last weekend when he was on South Carolina WR Shi Smith, and covered him like a blanket.
Isaiah Simmons is the key cog in the Tigers defense this season. He has been on the field for 578 snaps, 78 more than any other player on the Clemson defense. He leads the team in tackles with 84, tackles for loss with 14, and sacks with 7. He is tied for second on the team with 6 pass breakups, and has 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery.
He is a finalist for three major defensive awards, and in a perfect world would win all three. He’s up for the Butkus Award, which is given to the nations best linebacker, the Bednarik Award, given to the country’s best defensive player, and the Bronco Nagurski Trophy, given to the nations most outstanding defensive player. The only real difference between the Bednarik and Nagurski Awards is that one is given out by the Maxwell Club and one by the Football Writers Association. Simmons not winning at least one of those would border on criminal.
His main competition is Ohio State defensive end Chase Young, who missed two games serving a suspension for an NCAA violation. He is tied for second in the nation with 13.5 sacks, and has 15.5 tackles for loss, second best nationally. He has had a great season thus far. The kind worthy of recognition, and in most seasons the kind of production we’ve seen from him might possibly warrant winning one of those awards.
Not in 2019 though. Playing defense is about more than just rushing the passer and racking up sacks. Isaiah Simmons does it all. He’s excelled at everything he’s done this season, and he’s looked good while doing so. Without him this Clemson team doesn’t have one of the top two defenses in the nation. The Tigers don’t rank second in total defense, sixth in tackles for loss, eleventh in rush defense, and first in scoring and pass defense. Hopefully the folks doing the voting have been watching all season and take a cue from the ACC. Nobody is better than Isaiah Simmons, and he has earned that distinction.