The Detroit Lions are sitting in good position to get an immediate impact player with the No. 3 overall pick in April's NFL Draft.
Will they select the quarterback of the future? What about an explosive pass catcher? Or will GM Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia look to bolster the league's second worst defense statistically from a season ago?
The latter seems like the more pressing need, especially for a team that needs to be playing meaningful games in December. One player from last night's National Championship Game between LSU and Clemson might have solidified his case for inclusion into the Lions' conversation at No. 3, assuming the team stays in that spot.
Clemson linebacker, safety, do-it-all defender Isaiah Simmons had a terrific game for Clemson, despite their 42-25 defeat at the hands of LSU.
Simmons recorded seven tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and defended two passes. He finished the season with 104 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, eight sacks, nine passes defended and three interceptions. He can rush the quarterback, play the run, cover tight ends in the slot and run with running backs out of the backfield. At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Simmons is the prototypical hybrid body type for today's multi-use NFL defender.
Ohio State's Chase Young is widely considered the best defensive player available in this draft. Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown and Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah are high on that list as well, but Simmons has certainly put himself into that conversation with the way he's played over the last three weeks, and really how he's played going on two years now.
"A converted safety who had 89 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss last season, Simmons is exactly what NFL teams look for in three-down linebackers in today's game," ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said of Simmons, after placing him No. 6 overall on his initial 2020 prospect Big Board.
"He has the size and speed to run sideline to sideline to chase down tailbacks, and he has the athletic ability to cover tight ends in the slot. He could even flip his hips and play some safety. Simmons is a combo player in the mold of Keanu Neal. He has 93 tackles, six sacks, one interception and 14 total tackles for loss this season, and with Clemson in the College Football Playoff, he could get two more games to add to his numbers."
Simmons did add to those numbers in impressive fashion with 10 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, two passes defended and an interception in games against Ohio State and LSU.
The Lions can use more playmakers on defense who have a knack for finding the football. Detroit's sack numbers and team takeaway totals were among the bottom of the league this past season.
"I mean, I think we're obviously going to try to add as many players as we can that can impact the game in all of those situations," Patricia said after the season. "Whether it is a single stat, like sacks or it's completions, it's catches, it's pass breakups, it's interceptions – I think anybody that can help us in that manner or players that can develop to help us in that way are certainly impactful.
"We want to try to get as many of those types of players on our team as possible. I think that's always important no matter what state you're in."
The Lions return their full complement of starting and reserve linebackers in 2020 and have safeties Tracy Walker and last year's third-round pick, Will Harris, under contract. The Lions do prefer bigger body types at the linebacker position – Detroit's top four linebackers average 250 pounds – but as Patricia stated, there's never a time when teams aren't looking to add impact players to a roster, especially players with a proven ability to be a Swiss Army Knife for a defense.
If Simmons declares for the draft before the Jan. 20 deadline for underclassmen to do so, teams will be taking a very close look at him and how his unique skill set might fit into their schemes.
Expect the Lions to do the same as they search for the best fit for them at No. 3.