INDIANAPOLIS — Of all the many skills Isaiah Simmons possesses and brings to the field — and there are many, indeed — it is more than likely Giants fans would sign up to get him with the No. 4 pick in the draft if he could solve one specific and timeworn problem:
Prevent tight ends from ravaging the Giants’ defense.
Simmons, Mr. Everything at Clemson, seems as if he were assembled and put on the earth for that exact mission.
“The game is evolving so, the name of the game now is stopping tight ends,” Simmons said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “So something has to be done to stop these Travis Kelces and George Kittles out there.”
Something has to be done. It sure sounds alarming and, in fact, it is, for anyone witnessing the Giants’ defense in general the past few years and, in particular, their inability to contend with tight ends.
New head coach Joe Judge and new defensive coordinator Patrick Graham in season No. 1 need to find a way to deal with Mark Andrews (Ravens), O.J. Howard (Buccaneers), David Njoku (Browns) and, most formidably, Kittle (49ers) and Zach Ertz of the Eagles, twice.
Simmons is big enough and fast enough and skilled enough to accept the challenge and survive it.
What he offers is a compelling reason why he should hear his name early in the first round.
“If you know who George Kittle and Travis Kelce are, then that explains it all,” Simmons said. “Stopping tight ends and linebackers playing man on running backs is … like the game’s no longer a 250-pound linebacker. It’s more guys that are able to run side-to-side and are able to cover. It’s just a necessity now with the tight ends and running backs.”
The phrase “You can line him up all over the field” is overused and rarely accurate, as lining up at a certain position and providing high-quality snaps at those positions is rare.
Simmons is the exception. He was on the field for 738 snaps this past season for Clemson and the breakdown is startling. He had 106 snaps on the defensive line, 239 in the box, 256 as a slot cornerback, seven as a wide cornerback and 130 as a deep safety, according to Pro Football Focus. So, this means he played outside linebacker, inside linebacker, cornerback and both safety spots.
He measured in at the combine at 6-foot-35/8 and 238 pounds, long and lean, yet heavy enough to pound away against the run, and he is expected to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.4-second range.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables got the very best out of Simmons, who finished his college career with 238 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, six forced fumbles and four interceptions.
Some NFL scouts are not enamored with the jack-of-all-trades vibe Simmons gives off, concerned he will not be great at any one slice of the job description. It will take a creative defensive coordinator to best utilize Simmons, who has such high football acumen that he sat in the joint linebacker/defensive backfield meetings at Clemson and was able to absorb the multiple assignments he carried into every game.
“I know years ago it wasn’t good to be a position-less guy,” Simmons said. “But now it’s become a benefit for me just because of all the versatility I’ll be able to do, play linebacker, play safety, whatever it is, I feel like it just helps me out.”
Simmons said he models his game after three marquee NFL players, taking what each does best to add to his athletic toolbox. He studies Von Miller’s pass-rush prowess, Jalen Ramsey’s man-to-man coverage techniques and Tyrann Mathieu’s ability to roam all over the field.
“I take bits and pieces from all of them and kind of throw them into my game,” Simmons said.
There are no indications the Giants are all-in on Simmons yet, and history tells us the franchise has not taken a linebacker in the first round of an NFL draft since 1984, when Carl Banks was selected with the No. 3-overall pick.
Simmons says he does not have a favorite role.
“I like an interception just as much as I like getting a sack,” he said.
The official black combine hooded sweatshirt given to Simmons had “34 LB” in a red box on the left front. He was asked how he responds when someone asks him what position he plays.
“Defense,” Simmons said.
Lord knows the Giants need more of that, wherever they can get it. Simmons brings it many different ways.