“The War Room” is a column by Reagan Griffin Jr. about professional sports.
There has never been a prospect like Isaiah Simmons.
Sure, we’ve seen some Swiss Army knives come through the draft before. Jamal Adams, Jabrill Peppers and Derwin James were all pegged as trailblazers of the modern NFL hybrid defender, do-it-all players capable of excelling while simultaneously wearing multiple hats. Adams was touted as an exceptionally versatile defensive back, able to play on the outside, in the nickel and at both strong and free safety. Peppers gained traction as a hard-hitting safety with sideline-to-sideline linebacker capabilities. And James, well, he was the whole package … or so we thought.
Then along came the 6-foot-4, 230-pound unicorn that Dabo Swinney commended as an athlete when he said “Not a box you can’t check … I’ve never really had a guy quite like him.” Simmons can play the SAM, WILL and MIKE. He can rush off of the edge. He can hold down both safety positions. He can plug into the slot corner position — hell, he can slide to the outside if you really need him to. The former track star doesn’t just do many things; he does everything. The only hesitation that scouts seem to have with him, it seems, is that they can’t exactly define what he projects to play at the next level.
Allow me to answer that question for all parties concerned: Literally whatever your defensive coordinator’s heart desires.
The question isn’t “what will he play?” The question is “what do you need?”
It’s an unfamiliar concept to most. A player such as Simmons is unprecedented, and that can be scary for the guys making the picks, but his rarity should not conceal the fact that his versatility makes him the best defensive player in this draft — and yes, that includes 2019 Heisman finalist Chase Young.
If you’re looking for an article that is going to bash the Ohio State edge defender, rest assured that you won’t find that here, or anywhere for that matter. He was nothing short of dominant for the entirety of his run with the Buckeyes, amassing over 30 career sacks in just 34 games. Make no mistake about it: Young projects to be a premier pass rusher in the NFL and is undoubtedly a top-five pick come April.
However, the reason that Simmons has leapfrogged Young on my big board has nothing to do with a lack of talent, but rather the evolution of football itself.
NFL defenses are trending in the direction of fluidity. Athletes built in the mold of Simmons, Adams, Peppers and James are becoming indispensable. With player contracts becoming larger and larger, it becomes impossible to construct defenses with the expectation of obtaining eleven different players to excel at eleven different jobs. The more fiscally responsible alternative is simple: acquire guys whose polymathic ability allows for their role to be adjusted based on the opponent.
This is why Isaiah Simmons edges out Chase Young for the No. 1 spot. Both players have the talent to plug a hole that a team may have right now. But only Simmons is capable of filling a different need that a defense might have on any given week, possibly even plugging holes that a team didn’t know it had.
Need a speedy guy to spy a mobile quarterback? Simmons is on it.
Need someone with the size and agility required to cover an elite tight end? Isaiah’s got that.
Nickel corner injured in practice this week and you’re not confident in the backup? Guess who.
In Simmons, a team will find a playmaker whose effect is felt anywhere and everywhere on the field. He is the next evolution of the NFL defender, quite possibly the next pinnacle of versatility in football.
Isaiah Simmons has next.
“The War Room” runs every other Wednesday.