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NFL Draft

2021 NFL Draft Scouting Report: LB Antjuan Simmons

  • The Draft Network
  • February 6, 2021
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PROSPECT SUMMARY – ANTJUAN SIMMONS

Michigan State linebacker Antjuan Simmons enters the 2021 NFL Draft process hoping to sell a team on the complementary roles he can fill on an active roster. Simmons is a slasher-style backer who makes most of his splash plays triggering into the line of scrimmage and attempting to shoot gaps. He’s not a high-impact player in pass coverage, but his ability to navigate traffic and subsequently shuck blockers in close combat offers a glimpse into a special teams role that could serve him well in the pros. Simmons has adequate extension skills and some nice pop through his hands and pads, allowing him to jolt bigger, heavier blockers and create a crease for him to attack. Some of his thud fills (Northwestern 2020) offer enough leverage to completely clear out the gap. Simmons will need to clean up his tackling skills in order to commandeer such a role, however—there were too many poor angles in pursuit to the football that left him attacking the inside hip but ultimately either scraping too flat over the top to allow for cutbacks or attacking too direct to fall behind his landmarks as a tackler. If Simmons can become more consistent in one-on-one opportunities here, he’ll have a role to play at the next level. But while his raw tackle production was near the top in the Big Ten last season, there’s needed improvement from a consistency standpoint.

Ideal Role: Special teamer.

Scheme Fit: 4-3 WILL LB.

FILM EVALUATION

Written by Kyle Crabbs

Games watched: Wisconsin (2019), Michigan (2020), Northwestern (2020), Ohio State (2020)

Best Game Studied: Northwestern (2020)

Worst Game Studied: Michigan (2020)

Tackling: He’s been a tackling machine over the course of the past two seasons from a production standpoint, but a lack of closing burst, a lack of consistent angles, and some functional length issues have allowed ball-carriers to escape his grasp on too many occasions. Given his other restrictions, Simmons will need to sharpen his angles to the football and learn to tightrope the athletic limits he has versus successfully attacking the ball-carrier with an optimal approach. 

Football IQ/Instincts: Simmons is a two-year starter with the Spartans and his best work comes from attack reps in the box—he will anticipate versus down blocks or pulls well to trigger and play forward. His presence in coverage is not as confident nor effective. The issues in tackling illustrate an awareness of where he wins and trying to stay true to his skills in real time, which is easy to appreciate but proves difficult in application. 

Competitive Toughness: I wouldn’t question his toughness for a moment. He plays fearlessly and is willing to put his face in the fire. Has blown up a number of offensive linemen with his pads on fills to spill the back into team pursuit. His effort as a rally player stands out as well. He shows good pursuit skills in the open field to chase down extended plays. 

Pass Coverage Ability: Simmons’ zone drops are hindered by rigidness through his trunk. He is not consistent to drop out of his platform and fall underneath of intermediate routes working the middle of the field. His short-area transition quickness, specifically when playing backward, is only modest and his ability to drive on the catch point is modest. He’s only contested five passes in his career (one interception and four PBUs). 

Run Defending: Tackles behind the line of scrimmage are where he makes the most noise. He’ll pinball off blockers on his gap shoots and does well to crowd ball-carriers before they can fully get into their reads when pressing the line of scrimmage. When he’s encouraged to flow freely and attack, you’ll get good anticipation and success beating blockers to the spot. 

Block Deconstruction: His wins here come from aggressive hands and some good leverage to pop linemen or skill players and violently discard the hands. If he’s pinned down and leveraged out of gaps, he does not show a great deal of upper-body strength to negotiate himself free. But if he’s carrying momentum into the line of scrimmage for his fills, he’s capable of stunning and rallying in pursuit. 

Lateral Mobility: His sideline-to-sideline range is not overly prominent and I would not endorse tasking him with MIKE responsibilities. He will fall off the pace on scrapes that carry him outside the hashes and be forced to take on blocks down the field—and he will subsequently compensate by coming flat over the top but surrendering cutback opportunities. 

Flexibility: Tightness is visible in his zone drops and transitions, which makes hitting deeper landmarks a chore and last moment redirection a difficult proposition as well. He’s built low to the ground, so leverage is less of an issue as compared to rotational mobility throughout his frame to play with fluidity. 

Leadership: He's a very highly regarded player. Simmons served as a team captain and clearly provided a jolt for his team with some of the splash plays in opposing backfields. You appreciate the effort and energy he played with. 

Versatility: The roles Simmons tackled at the college level will not equate to the roles he’ll fill for an NFL team. He lacks the appeal in coverage to serve as either a zone dropper or someone to consistently handle man assignments in obvious passing situations. His ability to stick will be predicated on selling a team on a role as a 4-phase special teamer. 

Prospect Comparison: Vosean Joseph (2019 NFL Draft, Buffalo Bills)

SCOUT GRADES

TDN Consensus: To Be Determined

Kyle Crabbs: 66/100

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