With the Super Bowl finally over—and what a mediocre game it was, all things considered—we now know the final draft order for the 2019 NFL Draft. All 32 teams can now join us in #DraftSzn. The Falcons are picking 14th in this year’s draft, which puts them in a pretty flexible position based on the available talent. I’m sure there will be plenty of debates about which need is the most pressing—OT, EDGE, or DT—but for now I’m happy to provide you all with in-depth reports on some of the most common names we’re seeing linked to Atlanta.
Today’s report concerns Mississippi State DT Jeffery Simmons. Simmons is getting top-10 buzz in some circles due to his prototypical size, strength, and impressive burst off the snap from the defensive interior. Let’s take a closer look to see if all that praise is warranted.
Scouting Report: DT Jeffery Simmons, Mississippi State
Size: 6’3, 300
2018 Stats: 63 total tackles, 25 solo, 18.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 4 PD
- Impressive strength at the point of attack with a nasty bull rush
- Explosive burst with above average flexibility for a DT
- Prototypical size for the position at 6’3, 300
- Active hand fighter who knows how to utilize his length to shed blocks
- Several pass rushing moves in his arsenal—particularly effective with his swim move
- Excellent penetration ability with strong tackling skills
- High motor player that rarely gives up on a snap, lots of “second effort” plays in his tape
- Very good football IQ—demonstrates knowledge of opposing blocking schemes and always tries to bat down passes if he can’t reach the QB
- Plays far too upright—needs to improve his leverage off the snap
- Washed out by double teams and inconsistent at holding his ground against the run
- Lacks counters if his initial rush attempt fails—too often stalls out if an opponent gets their hands on him
- Straight line rusher that has difficulty changing direction or moving laterally
- Significant character concerns stemming from 2016 violence incident
Grade: 1 (immediate impact starter)
As much as I hate this scouting trope, Jeffery Simmons certainly does “look the part” of an NFL DT at 6’3, 300. He’s got the prototypical size and length you want from a starter, and that’s something you simply can’t teach. Add that to his impressive burst off the line and strong hands and you’ve got the makings of a disruptive NFL 3T. Let’s take a look at some of his plays that stood out to me.
On the play below, we see Simmons get a 1-on-1 opportunity against a center. Simmons uses his swim move—which is definitely his go-to, outside of his bull rush—to blow right past the center and right into the QB for a sack.
On the next play, we get to see Simmons show off his disruptive ability against the run. Simmons reads the zone play perfectly and knifes in between the center and the right guard, using his left arm to keep the RG from getting a hand on him. He’s in perfect position to shut down the play and pulls down the RB with a shoestring tackle.
Finally, we see Simmons once again show off his impressive burst and understanding of his opponent’s blocking scheme. Simmons avoids the double team by looping around the left guard, and he’s simply too quick for the OL to catch him. He finishes the play with a strong sack on Iowa’s QB.
These are some of the best plays I watched from Simmons, and they demonstrate his strengths. He’s an excellent straight-line rusher that uses his impressive power and explosiveness to wreak havoc in the opponent’s backfield. I love how comfortable he is with his swim move, and also how quickly he deciphers his opponent’s blocking scheme. You have to put in the work in the film room to pull some of these plays off, and Simmons clearly did.
Let’s talk about some of Simmons’ weaknesses. For one, he’s nowhere near as good of a point-of-attack run defender as his size and strength indicate. The reason? Leverage. Simmons has a bad habit of shooting straight up out of his stance at the snap, and when that happens he often gets pushed back or stalled out. That technique issue is magnified against double teams, where Simmons often gets washed out of plays completely. Watch his film against Alabama to see how easily he gets neutralized in these situations.
While Simmons shows off some impressive pass rush moves, he can too often get stalled out if his initial attack fails. He’ll need to add more varied counters to his arsenal to avoid getting shut down against quality NFL competition. While Simmons shows off impressive burst and above-average flexibility for a DT, he struggles if forced to change direction quickly and isn’t capable of making many plays in space. Too often I saw Simmons get juked out in the backfield by a mobile QB or particularly shifty RB, and I have a feeling that his athletic testing will show him to be weak in this area.
Then we get to the elephant in the room: Simmons has a big character red flag stemming from a violent incident in 2016. I’m not going to comment on the incident itself, suffice to say that the NFL is barring him from the Combine. However, Simmons was never convicted of any crime, and his coaches and teammates rave about his work ethic and the fact that he’s changed since then. The Falcons are very leery of off-field issues after being burned by Prince Shembo, Ra’shede Hageman, and Jalen Collins in a short span of time—and that could affect his stock in Atlanta.
I like Simmons’ fit in Dan Quinn’s defense as a penetrating 3T that can cause disruption on all three downs. However, fans looking for a big improvement to the Falcons’ run defense should be concerned about Simmons shortcomings with leverage. For a good example of proper leverage usage, go watch Ed Oliver. Oliver is probably twenty pounds lighter than Simmons, but holds up much more consistently at the point of attack and against double teams because he understands how to use leverage. Simmons certainly has a higher ceiling as a run defender because of his size advantage, but his technique hasn’t quite caught up yet.
Simmons is absolutely a player that I expect to be in play for the Falcons if they remain at pick 14, and would give Atlanta a dangerous interior duo for years to come. What do you think, Falcons fans? How do you feel about adding Jeffery Simmons to the DT rotation?