It was already going to be a whirlwind of a draft process for Mississippi State interior defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons. After being one of the Top 10 draft-eligible players in all of college football in 2018, Simmons was poised to take on the draft process as one of the biggest names. But after not being invited to the NFL Scouting Combine due to a violent incident that happened between he and a woman many years ago, that talent of his became a question in public light with character concerns now on his resume.
Due to all that, Simmons was already going to be a polarizing prospect. But now, after the news came out that he recently tore his ACL while training, the outlook on Simmons is going to be all over the place.
— Jeffery Simmons (@GrindSimmons94) February 12, 2019
In a message that he sent out on Twitter and Instagram after it was confirmed that he had, in fact, torn his ACL, Simmons seems to be handling it as well as he can — mentally, at least. But the road ahead for Simmons is going to be a long one. Simmons wrote that he will be having the surgery to repair his knee soon and will be as diligent in his recovery as he can.
And that brings us to his outlook for draft night.
Ask any member of TDN’s staff and they likely would’ve told you that Simmons was a sure-fire first round pick before this injury. But now, with his rookie season in jeopardy, Lance Zierlein of NFL Network said that he has talked to people in the NFL who told him they all expect Simmons to fall out of the first round.
Though Simmons’ draft projection is much more up in the air than what it previously was before the injury, there are example of this happening (recent examples, in fact) that give us a precedent on what the NFL usually does with talent players who suffer major injuries late in the draft process.
Let’s take a look at a few of them to potentially get a better look at where Simmons could land.
Thurman Thomas, RB, Pick No. 40 (1988)
This was so long ago and Thurman Thomas was such a freak that it almost doesn’t really apply, but I wanted to talk about it because people who don’t know this about Thomas need to know it.
At Oklahoma State, Thomas had 897 carries for 4,595 yards, 43 touchdowns, 5,146 total yards, and 21 100-yard rushing games — side note: he was the upperclassman to a guy named Barry Sanders, which has to be the most insane running back transition in college football history. Before his senior season, Thomas tore his ACL, but instead of having surgery and missing a season, he just wore a brace on it and continued to be a starting running back — one of the best in the country, at that.
When Thomas entered the 1988 NFL Draft, he again elected to not have surgery, since doing so may have hurt his draft stock with a potentially wasted rookie season. Thomas went from what likely would’ve been a Top 10 selection to an early second round selection and the rest is history. Thomas led the AFC in rushing in 1990, 1991 and 1993, won MVP in 1991 and currently holds the all-time Buffalo Bills rushing record with 11,938 yards and the team record for yards from scrimmage with 16,279 over 12 years. Oh, and by the way, he never got surgery on his ACL and played that entire career with a brace and his ACL about 85 percent torn.
Thomas was a freak, and though he didn’t get surgery on his ACL, his talent-to-injury draft precedent set the tone for years to come. The NFL doesn’t like being risky via injuries with their first round picks, but anywhere on Day 2 is fair game.
Sydney Jones, CB, Pick No. 43 (2017)
Going into the 2017 NFL Draft, Washington cornerback Sydney Jones was considered by some to be the top cornerback in the class.
Jones started all but one game his true freshman season at Washington, and was a star on the defense for the next two years. After proving everything he needed to at the college level, and getting a first round draft grade back from most people he talked to around the league, Jones decided to forego his senior season. But at his Pro Day in March, Jones tore his Achilles tendon and his stock took a big hit.
Instead of being the first or even one of the first cornerbacks selected, Jones was the seventh cornerback taken in the 2017 NFL draft, eventually drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles at pick No. 43 early in the second round. Jones missed all but the final game of the regular season rehabbing that injury. As the team made their Super Bowl run, Jones was not active during those playoff games.
Jones played in nine games the following year, and is likely to play an ever bigger role for the Eagles in the upcoming season. Jones is a good example when projecting what might happen with a guy like Simmons in terms of where he’s drafted and when you can really expect to get that high-end return on his talent.
Jaylon Smith, LB, Pick No. 34 (2016)
Jaylon Smith is the most active and recent example of a guy who had all the talent in the world who nearly lost it due to injury.
Smith was one of the stars of the 2016 NFL draft class. After a stellar career at Notre Dame as their inside linebacker, Smith was considered to be a Top 3 prospect in the class. But in Notre Dame’s last game of the season, their bowl game against Ohio State, disaster struck. Smith not only tore his ACL and LCL, but there was a fear that there was nerve damage to his knee that would never heal, potentially ending his football career.
But that didn’t stop him from getting drafted at the top of the second round.
Smith was drafted No. 34 overall by the Dallas Cowboys. Smith was inactive for the entire 2016 season, which was part of the plan. Smith participated in drills for the first time a year later in June of 2017. He went through training camp as the team’s back up middle linebacker, as he tried to prove his knee would hold up. Smith played in all 16 games for the Cowboys in 2017, but it wasn’t quite at the level he was used to playing — you could tell he was easing back into things. In 2018, however, the Smith of old returned. He started all 16 games for the Cowboys, recorded 121 total tackles with four sacks, and was part of a dynamic duo with rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.
Now, Smith’s injury was more severe than say Simmons’, but it took nearly two and a half years for Smith to totally become himself again. I think if you take somewhat of a combination of Jones’ timeline with Smith’s, Simmons’ timeline means you’d be drafting him this year knowing he’ll be redshirting his rookie year, easing back into it a bit in his second year, finding his groove again in the second half of his sophomore year and can be a total stud by Year 3.
If you ask me, that’s Simmons’ timeline, and when it comes to the precedent set for where he’ll be drafted, don’t think your team will get lucky and get him anywhere past the front half of the second round.
History tells us that’s where Simmons’ NFL career is poised to begin.