The 2023 NFL Draft class has an impressive breadth of talent, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Not only are there a lot of very good edge and cornerback prospects, but there are also several very intriguing linebacker prospects as well. This year we have several linebackers with the size and athleticism to be true three-down players at the next level.
Clemson’s Trenton Simpson is one of the most highly regarded linebackers in the upcoming draft class and he very well could be the first linebacker selected. In fact, he could even be a target of the New York Giants.
The Giants added linebacker Bobby Okereke in free agency, but they could still stand to add talented and versatile depth at the position. Is Simpson good enough to be the Giants’ highest drafted linebacker since Carl Banks?
Games Played: 33
Tackles for a loss: 23.0
Forced fumbles: 3
Passes defensed: 5
Games Played: 12
Tackles for a loss: 4.0
Forced fumbles: 2
Passes defensed: 3
Best: Length, athleticism, versatility, pass rush
Worst: Instincts, block shedding
Projection: A starting off-ball linebacker with scheme versatility.
Trenton Simpson has an excellent combination of athleticism and versatility – to go with adequate size – to play the linebacker position at the NFL level.
Simpson is an excellent athlete for the linebacker position with elite speed and movement skills, as well as enough size to take on bigger offensive players. Simpson has elite speed to give him true sideline-to-sideline range, as well as surprisingly loose hips and quick feet. He is equally able to drop into coverage as trigger downhill to play the run.
Simpson’s athleticism allows him to drop into coverage and carry tight ends vertically down the field, effectively covering the middle of the field or the seams between coverage shells. He also has good range and speed as a pursuit player and is able to run down ball carriers or scrambling quarterbacks from behind.
He also uses his athleticism to good effect as a run defender. Simpson has active hands around the line of scrimmage and is able to use them – as well as his agility – to keep blocks from being established and himself clean. He’s able to take aggressive angles to the ball and his agility allows him to put himself in a good positon to make the tackle.
Simpson was also frequently used as a blitzer in Clemson’s defense. He was often asked to rush off the edge as well as through interior gaps. He generally timed his rushes well and was a disruptive player in the backfield. His speed was too much for offensive linemen and beat them to their landmarks. He also shows good understanding of blitz schemes and works well with his teammates.
Simpson has adequate size, but certainly isn’t exceptional in that regard. He is able to take on bigger blockers as a run defender or pass rusher, but he can be taken out of the play if he isn’t able to use his hands and athleticism to keep himself clean. Likewise, he shouldn’t be put in a position where he has to routinely stack and shed blockers.
And while Simpson has solid processing speed, he is not a truly instinctive linebacker. He is much more of a “read and react” player who needs to see the play develop before committing to a course of action. He flies to the ball when he makes the correct read, but he can also be pulled out of position by misdirection. Simpson could also see his play speed drop some at the NFL level, as the overall pace of the game picks up and he isn’t able to use his athleticism to make up for time spent processing.
Overall Grade: 8.1
Trenton Simpson projects as a starting off-ball linebacker at the NFL level.
He probably shouldn’t be asked to play the MIKE linebacker position for an NFL defense, but he should be able to fill either the SAM or WILL positions in most schemes. He has the speed, range and agility to match up with most tight ends and running backs in coverage. Likewise, he also has enough size and skill to be an effective run defender on the playside or in pursuit. Finally, he’s an effective and experienced blitzing linebacker who can help a pass rush.
Simpson isn’t an instinctive player and he’ll likely struggle if he has to routinely stack and shed blocks from offensive linemen.
That said, he’s a versatile player who can find a role in a wide variety of defensive schemes. His speed and coverage ability are assets against modern NFL offenses, and his ability to play the run or rush the passer should make him a true “three down” defender. Simpson might not be quite as active a linebacker in the NFL as he has been in college, but he’ll be a useful defender for whatever team selects him.