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Linebacker? Don’t tell Isaiah Simmons he’s a linebacker

Traditionalists might pigeon-hole him that way, but Simmons just says he plays “defense”

NFL: Combine
Isaiah Simmons
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

If the New York Giants were to select Isaiah Simmons of Clemson in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft he would be considered as the only first-round linebacker the Giants had selected in the draft since taking Carl Banks waaaay back in 1984.

Just don’t tell the 6-foot-3 5/8, 238-pound Simmons he is a linebacker.

His Combine sweatshirt has an “LB” on it signifying that he is grouped with the linebackers. He will do on-field Combine drills with the linebackers.

Ask him what position he plays, though, and he has a one-word answer:


Which is actually the perfect description for a player who says he played as many as five defensive positions during games while at Clemson.

“I think it’s really beneficial for me,” Simmons told assembled media on Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I know years ago it wasn’t good to be a position-less 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.”

Asked for an NFL comparison to his game Simmons, in fact, did not name a linebacker.

“The first name that comes to mind would be Tyrann Mathieu because he bounces around, he can play anywhere in the back seven,” Simmons said.

With new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham the Giants are expected to play a hybrid defense that places a high value on positional versatility. Perhaps more than any player in the 2020 draft class, Simmons embodies that type of player.

“I think I can play in any scheme just because of my versatility, I can fit in anywhere. Depending on what position they need me at, I feel I can play it,” Simmons said.

Simmons gave lots of credit to Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables for challenging him to learn all of the back seven defensive positions, and for using him accordingly.

He was asked how he should be used in the NFL, and if NFL defensive coordinators were creative enough to maximize his talents.

“I would do everything I did in college. Just kind of like a Swiss Army knife, move me around because then I’m able to show what I can really do,” Simmons said. “I wouldn’t say I’m really tied down to one position. Coach Venables really used me in a really special way that most people aren’t able to be used.”

The Giants, of course, let go of linebacker Alec Ogletree and edge defender Kareem Martin this week. They need playmakers at every level of their defense.

Simmons believes the NFL needs “positionless” defensive players and that his skillset is “absolutely” the right one for the modern game.

“If you know who George Kittle and Travis Kelce are, then that explains it all. Stopping tight ends and linebackers playing man on running backs is … like the game’s no longer a 250-pound linebacker,” Simmons said. “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.”

Asked if there were any NFL players he modeled his game after, Simmons mentioned a trio of vastly different players.

“Personally I model my game after a couple people,” he 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.”

Could the Giants throw Simmons and his varied skillset into their 2020 defense?