INDIANAPOLIS – It used to be that NFL teams looked down on prospects they considered to be position-less. Those players were harder to project at the NFL level.
Boy, has the NFL changed over the years. Those types of hybrid players now carry a lot of value in today's NFL, and it's why Clemson linebacker/safety/pass rusher Isaiah Simmons is considered one of the top defenders in this draft.
The Butkus Award winner as the nation's top linebacker, Simmons checks off all the boxes of what teams are looking for in today's game. He has a rare combination of speed, length and toughness. Teams are desperately searching for defenders to match up with the league's talented pass-catching tight ends and running backs, something Simmons said Thursday at the Combine his versatility is made for.
"The game is evolving so, the name of the game now is stopping tight ends so something has to be done to stop these Travis Kelce's and George Kittle's out there," Simmons said.
"I wouldn't say I'm really tied down to one position. Coach (Brent) Venables really used me in a really special way that most people aren't able to be used."
Simmons notched 104 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks, three interceptions and eight pass breakups this past season. A true Swiss Army Knife, Simmons said the most positions he's played in one game is five. NFL talent evaluators think Simmons is athletic and skilled enough to play slot corner, outside linebacker or line up at safety. He's a likely top 10 pick.
Lions general manager Bob Quinn admitted that hybrid players like Simmons are a little harder to evaluate, and teams really need to have a good idea of how they fit into their scheme and how they plan to use them. Quinn was quick to praise Simmons' skillset.
"That guy's a playmaker," Quinn said. "He can do a variety of things at a very, very high level. He, obviously a couple years ago, when he wasn't even eligible, coming down the stretch, the last month of the college season, he was probably one of the most dominant guys on that team and they had a bunch of guys that got drafted last year.
"So he was on our radar. He's great, he can cover tight ends, he can play the run, he can play sideline to sideline. He's a very good blitzer. He's not a big body, inside linebacker, kind of take on blocks, but his athleticism, his range, his ability just to make plays in both the run and pass game was really intriguing. He's a high-level prospect."
He certainly seems to fit what the Lions do on defense. They'll mix between four linebacker and three safety packages often, and are very multiple on defense. Detroit was last in the NFL against the pass last season, allowing on average 284.4 passing yards per game, and they tied for last with just seven interceptions. Rookie Jahlani Tavai earned Detroit's highest coverage grade among their linebackers from Pro Football Focus, but it was still a slightly negative grade.
Simmons is a player that can come in and potentially make an immediate impact at an area of need.
"I think I can play in any scheme just because of my versatility, I can fit in anywhere," Simmons said. "Depending on what position they need me at, I feel I can play it."