Early Draft Projections: Justin Simmons
By Anthony Iati
Over the next few months until the NFL Draft commences on April 28, WZBC Sports will take an inside look at Boston College football prospects who may receive consideration on the draft boards of professional teams. Three Eagles were selected in the 2015 draft: offensive lineman Ian Silberman (San Francisco 49ers), center Andy Gallik (Tennessee Titans), and defensive lineman Brian Mihalik (Philadelphia Eagles). Although it is only January, we begin by taking an early glance at one of the Eagles’ most valuable and consistent players in 2015.
Name and Number: Justin Simmons, #27
Position: Defensive Back
Hometown: Stuart, Florida
Weight: 201 lbs.
2015 stats: 49 solo tackles, 67 total tackles, 0.0 sacks, 5 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries.
Career stats: 165 solo tackles, 229 total tackles, 1.0 sacks, 7 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries.
The eye test: The best phrase to describe Simmons’s style of play is “ballhawk.” On a BC defense loaded with talent and hard workers, Simmons led the way by having a nose for creating turnovers. He was involved in three alone against then-No. 4 Notre Dame on November 21. If you watch his highlight reel, you will notice that few of his interceptions are thrown right at him; Simmons usually makes a rangy, spectacular play on the ball and utilizes his sure hands to pull in interceptions. Another definite strength is his leadership. A four-year contributor for the Eagles, Simmons showed a propensity for toughness and was vocal when necessary in helping BC finish No. 1 in total defense in the FBS in 2015. All signs point to his being an upstanding person without major character red flags.
Simmons is long and rangy, with some speed and power, but not a spectacular amount of either. Scouts say one of his weaknesses is changing directions in pursuit of ballcarriers due to his stature. Another weakness may be his lack of a true, clear-cut position at the next level. He is not a natural strong safety, a Landon Collins-type who can play close to the line of scrimmage and be a punishing force in the run game, almost like a hybrid linebacker. Neither is Simmons excellent in coverage, a la Ed Reed. In 2014, Simmons did a service to the banged-up BC defense by moving to cornerback. As expected for a safety playing out of position, he struggled at times, particularly in man coverage. On the positive side, he demonstrated the same team-first attitude that NFL veteran Antrel Rolle displayed by constantly shifting positions during his time with the New York Giants. The hope here is that Simmons can avoid being labeled something of a jack of all trades, master of none.
Where he might land: With the NFL as much of a passing league as it is nowadays, quality defensive backs are essential. Though he lacks the physical talent of the top safeties in the 2016 Draft, Simmons will get looks from various teams. It also helps that Draft Insider Matt Miller tweeted his positive impressions of Simmons’ game film. Mike Mayock of NFL Network seemed to agree. It is difficult to project his landing spot because, if drafted, Simmons will be taken in the mid-to-late rounds, when teams are drafting for depth rather than for need.
Nevertheless, the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, and New Orleans Saints are possibilities to consider. Pittsburgh and New York have shown recent interest in Boston College prospects (think Tyler Murphy, Shakim Phillips, Andre Williams, Mark Herzlich, etc.) and need major help in the secondary. Likewise, Baltimore’s pass defense has been abysmal and oft-injured the past few years. Simmons could fit with the Ravens as a similar player to Will Hill, their troubled but talented, ballhawking safety. The Saints’ historically porous defense in 2015 has left New Orleans without a defensive coordinator, and needing young options in the defensive backfield. Jarius Byrd, the Saints’ marquee free-agent acquisition in 2014, has not panned out. While Simmons is not yet ready to start at the NFL level, he could add depth.
Projected draft round: Simmons will participate in the January 23 East-West Shrine Game, which showcases collegiate talent. Though the Shrine Game is not as hyped as the Senior Bowl, it is a legitimate All-Star game that will have the attention of scouts. Simmons’s draft hopes may be swung in either direction based on his performance in St. Petersburg. For now, I would estimate Simmons as a 4th round pick. I think his leadership and versatility will be enough to compensate for a lack of lockdown coverage skills, making this BC Eagle an early Day 3 pick.