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Film study: What are the Giants getting in Isaiah Simmons?

We look at the film to see how Wink Martindale might use his newest player

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The New York Giants on Thursday traded a 2024 seventh-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals for versatile defensive weapon Isaiah Simmons. The former eighth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft never reached his true potential in Vance Joseph’s defensive scheme, but a change of scenery should assist the 25-year-old’s career.

Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale runs a positionless a defense, a defense that ran quarter personnel (7+ defensive backs) more than 10% of the time last season. Simmons’ concern entering the NFL was his lack of a true position. The Cardinals tried him out at linebacker and edge in his rookie campaign before using him more in the secondary in his final two years as a Cardinal.

Operating in a situational role isn’t the expectation when a player is selected in the top 10 of the NFL draft, but that's where Simmons needed to start his career, and that’s what the Giants will offer him.

Simmons played 2,297 snaps throughout his career; 1,086 of those snaps were in the box, 645 were over the slot, with 436 at defensive line. 67 were at outside cornerback, and 63 were at safety. Simmons recorded 258 tackles, 75 STOPS, 32 pressures, 13 for a loss, 11 QB hits, 16 passes defended, seven forced fumbles, seven-and-a-half sacks, with only a 10.5% missed tackle rate.

With that type of production and versatility, why would the Cardinals trade him? For starters, they did not pick up his fifth-year-option, and the general sentiment surrounding Simmons is synonymous with the term bust.

The Cardinals were disappointing throughout the Kliff Kingsbury era, and the new regime didn’t have Simmons in itd plans. How they only managed to acquire a seventh-round pick for Simmons is beyond me.

Simmons made several huge impactful plays that helped secure Arizona victories:

[Go-ahead pick six with less than a minute left in the first half vs. New Orleans]

[Walk off forced fumble in overtime vs. the Raiders]

Simmons received praise for these plays, but his overall consistency was lacking, and his inability to fit the run with physicality was exposed throughout his career. However, like every defensive coordinator, Martindale preaches speed, and Simmons has nine plays during which he was clocked about 20 miles per hour (MPH) since he entered the league in 2020 - that nine number almost doubles every other linebacker in the league.

Speed, length, and explosiveness are three aspects of Simmons’ game that will be leveraged by Martindale, who aligns seven or more players on the line of scrimmage more than most defensive coordinators.

Martindale’s pressure breaks pipes mantra is accurate, but the illusion of pressure can also fracture the plumbing of an offense. Martindale ran simulated pressures often last season with seven guys on the line and only four eventual rushers; the presence of defenders who dropped into zone occupied the attention of offensive linemen just long enough to create one-on-one matchups or allow a free rusher unabated at the quarterback.

Adding Simmons gives Martindale a player who is explosive enough to threaten offensive linemen, with great pursuit and control when unblocked, but also a player who can maneuver with fluidity in space.

Oshane Ximines dropped into coverage 82 times for the Giants last season; Jihad Ward 56; Tomon Fox 32. Simmons won’t solely drop into coverage, but quarterbacks aren’t going to see an obvious liability in space when Simmons bails from the line of scrimmage to a zone. They’ll see a 6-foot-4, 240-pound athlete with a long wingspan and explosiveness.

Pass rusher

What Simmons offers the Giants in passing situations is the primary reason why I’m excited about this acquisition. Here are his career sacks:

[Isaiah Simmons is No. 9]

Simmons isn’t a polished pass rusher. He offers little to nothing in terms of power, and his hands are erratic. Still, his explosiveness, bend, and ability to judge the quarterback’s path are impressive traits. As we see in the clip against the Vikings, Simmons is excellent at masking his rush behind another player’s rush in two-on-one or two-versus-two scenarios, but it’s his quick 1.55 10-yard-split that immediately pressures the opposing quarterback:

A lot of Simmons’ pass-rushing production came on well-schemed plays as a blitzer but with little pass-rushing threat surrounding him. Now, on the Giants, opposing offensive lines will have to account for Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, Kayvon Thibodeaux, and Azeez Ojulari, as well as worrying about where the pressure is actually coming from since Martindale is an inclusive blitzer.

A lot of Simmons’ ball production has come as a free rusher:


Simmons is a long, athletic defender capable of playing man coverage on tight ends or running backs out wide ,as we see below against Packers’ running back Aaron Jones (33):

And also a slot wheel against Keenan Allen (13):

Simmons is plenty athletic and capable in this situation. However, it’s not always perfect in coverage, and there’s a reason why he surrendered nine touchdowns, 853 yards, and a 77% catch rate.

[Top of screen, inside numbers]

[Tampa-2 Middle hook inside the numbers, top of screen]

[Middle hook, top of Cardinal’s head]

[Top of screen, curl/flat]

[Top of screen]

[Middle hook]

[Bottom of screen, motioning with Travis Kelce (87)]

[Bottom of screen vs. George Kittle (85)]

Losing to Kelce and Kittle isn’t something to be ashamed of. Still, throughout his tape and in the other examples above, there is a lack of awareness in relation to his adjacent teammates in zone coverage. Whether it’s high-low situations or not expanding with routes when he has inside help, Simmons just didn’t look like a very instinctual player in space.

He’s a tick slow processing what he’s seeing and reacting to deliberate offensive concepts that are designed to put him into conflict. That is frustrating.

To be fair, there were plays throughout his film where he showed solid spatial awareness and an understanding of route concepts while reading the quarterback's eyes, but his overall instincts in coverage were marginal. Here are some of those positive plays in zone coverage:

[Top of screen]

Simmons is also disruptive and feisty at the catch-point, and here’s an instance of that against Seattle’s Noah Fant (87) in man coverage:

Simmons knocks the ball away from tight end Cole Kmet (85) in zone on a first-and-15 pass:

Run defense

Simmons’ explosive nature can lead to drive-killing plays for the offense. A lot of offensive teams employ pullers and blockers who are aligned on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage from their assignment; Simmons can make offenses pay when he penetrates, which can lead to a numbers advantage for the defense. Here are two examples of Simmons’ burst resulting in a positive outcome for the defense.

[Right side of screen]

[LB on hash]


Simmons’ ability to quickly accelerate from a stagnant stance is excellent for the Giants, but I don’t trust him on early run downs right now. Simmons has severe concerns in terms of his physicality. He can deliver solid pop on contact, but blockers routinely eliminated him from plays in the run game.

[Blocked by Deebo Samuel (19) outside]

[Driven out of bounds on the crack-toss]

[Right side of screen]

[Right side LB]

Defensive players who are listed as linebackers must have an impact against the run. They must be able to anticipate rushing attacks, stack and shed blockers at the point of attack, and lever-spill-lever versus power/gap - Simmons doesn’t consistently execute these assignments.

[Left side OLB]

[Right side of screen]

[Left side of screen]

Final thoughts

Simmons is far from a finished product. His awareness in space is suspect; he’s not physical at the point of attack, and he’s still a raw player with frustrating mistakes. Still, I love this trade by the Giants. It’s a high-upside, low-cost acquisition of a 25-year-old with elite athletic ability and versatility.

He wasn’t ready to be a full-time defensive stalwart who could change the face of a team. Simmons wasn’t refined enough to assume that mantle and leverage his elite athletic ability into a consistent defensive player. However, that does not mean he isn’t valuable and can’t serve an important role.

For a seventh-round pick, the Giants got a player who fits perfectly into Martindale’s positionless third-down defense that tasks players with rushing or dropping into coverage on any given down. Martindale desires speed, length, and explosiveness - Simmons has all three.

The Giants do not need to put Simmons into situations where he isn’t successful, which the Cardinals were basically forced to do. He can start in Martindale’s BIG Dime and Quarter packages and be a nuisance as a free rusher - or really anything that Martindale tasks him to execute on third down - while developing the other aspects of his game.

Smart football teams have exploited similar trading strategies over the last decade. Finding veteran players who need a fresh start is a wise way to extract value for a low cost. It’s refreshing to see the Giants’ brass make a move for a player with Simmons’ potential.