Huh? How is this possible? Former Mississippi State Bulldogs defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons announced he'd suffered an ACL tear on February 12, 2019, just two and a half months ahead of the 2019 NFL Draft, presumably wiping out his entire rookie season as a result. And against all odds, Jeffery Simmons is prepping to make his rookie debut for the Tennessee Titans today -- just like he beat the odds and retained his status as a 1st-round draft selection.
You're not supposed to be able to bounce back from an ACL tear in 8 months and be ready to take the field, especially as an explosive presence in the trenches. But here we are. The Tennessee Titans have activated Simmons onto the active roster -- bucking all expectations for a redshirt year for their surprise 1st-round pick in 2019 and significantly boosting their defensive interior. Simmons' status as a 1st-round draft selection was only a surprise because of the injury -- Simmons was widely regarded as a top-20 talent in the 2019 NFL Draft before he went down with the injury in his training for the 2019 NFL Combine. Perhaps the Titans knew something we didn't? When Tennessee locked Simmons in with the 19th overall pick, the assumption was that Simmons would miss the 2019 season, the Titans would treat his addition as a "second" 1st-round pick in 2020 and both sides would look to prove the value of the selection after a significant incubation period.
Nope. Simmons is only facing the prospect of missing 6 games, now. And Tennessee will welcome him back with open arms -- the hope being that a penetration presence on the defensive interior will help free up outside pass rushers in Cameron Wake and Harold Landry for more one on one rush looks. Or that Simmons will gobble up the one on ones for himself. The Titans' defense doesn't offer a lot of margin for error. The team is already in the top-5 in NFL scoring defense entering Week 7: they've allowed 92 points through the first 6 games. They've logged 8 turnovers and 17 sacks. And yet the pressure each week falls nearly completely onto the shoulders of the Titans defense. Why? The Titans offense is -- uh, not great. And so the return of Simmons to the lineup can yield significant dividends to a team that must ride their defense to wins on a weekly basis.
Does the return of Simmons tilt the balance in the AFC South? No, not exactly. Because the Titans' defense, as we've already established, has already been good this season and Simmons won't help them where they're hurting most -- on offense. But this is still a stunning turn of events that gives Tennessee an extra playmaker defensively. And if Simmons can retain anything near his form prior to the injury, it must be considered a huge win for a team who drafted a player assuming they'd get nothing in return for him at all in 2019.
Tennessee has finished 9-7 in three consecutive seasons and now sits at 2-4 -- they have their work cut out for them in order to reach a fourth consecutive winning season. The team's final 3 games are against the Texans (twice) and the New Orleans Saints. It's not great. But with this team already mired in a quarterback controversy after yanking Marcus Mariota in favor of a confirmed average quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, the Titans are at least playing with house money in getting Simmons back into the fray. What should we expect? The same Simmons we saw at Mississippi State? Simmons seems to think so.
"I feel great. The good thing about it is I didn't have much swelling. I knew I had an injury, but I didn't go out there all timid. I went out there full force, and it felt great," said Simmons this week.
Well alright then. Let's see what you've got, big guy, welcome to the NFL.