I am not sure if this is an advantage or a disadvantage -- it likely fluctuates as the draft does from team-to-team and year-to-year -- but the beauty of the NFL Draft is that no two classes are exactly the same. One year it might be quarterback heavy. The next year you might not be able to find a single starter. Sometimes defensive players reign supreme in the first round. Other drafts there are offensive playmakers galore.
With each year comes a new class, and what makes the game of the draft so fun and interesting is that even though there are positions that most would identify as more important than others (QB, EDGE, CB, OT), that might not be what the current class is offering.
Do you reach for need? Do you pick for talent? What do you do when you're on the clock?
As we are nearing the end of the college football season, we are starting to get a clearer picture of which positions could be bearing the most first round fruit come late April. One of those positions is the interior defensive line class. Ed Oliver has been on the radar of college football and NFL draft fans for three years now. After recording 22 tackles-for-loss as a true freshman, people have been waiting to get their hands on him in mock drafts. Then there's been the emergence of Quinnen Williams from Alabama here in 2018. Williams has had such a good year as a first time starter that he's drawing top overall pick consideration. When you also throw in Raekwon Davis from the Crimson Tide's defense, that's already three interior defensive linemen who could all go in the Top 15.
It's natural to think, "ok so that's the top three interior defensive linemen off the board. Would we rather have the fourth iDL player or go for the No. 1 linebacker?" In some years, you'd convince yourself to pick a higher-rated player at a different position. But this year, don't do that.
Especially if that interior defensive lineman is Jeffery Simmons.
Simmons, a 6-foot-3, 300-pound junior, finished the season with 15.5 tackles for loss, the most of his career. In his first year as a starter in 2017, he had 12 tackles for loss, and back-to-back years of double digit production in that category solidifies him as one of the most talented players at his position - in size, production and potential.
But the Simmons we've watched on the field for the last two years at Mississippi State almost never happened.
Three years ago, when Simmons was making the transition between high school and college, there was an incident that occurred in which Simmons was found guilty of simple assault and malicious mischief for striking a woman repeatedly. The video is out there, and everyone who was involved with Simmons' future saw it.
Let's not sugarcoat it, Simmons was a 5-star player, and one of the crown jewels of the 2016 recruiting class for MSU. Because of that, instead of just dropping his offer immediately, as they likely would have done if he were a lower-rated player, athletic director Scott Stricklin did some digging. Stricklin talked to members of the community in Macon, where Simmons was from. He talked to those in his church, the school leaders and more. After doing his own investigation he determined that Simmons was a good kid who made a bad decision, and they allowed Simmons to stay in MSU's class.
The story of the incident varies, but the one constant in the stories that have been told is that Simmons believes his family was threatened. The fight began with two women, one of them Simmons' sister, getting into a physical altercation with a woman named Sophia Taylor. Per 247's reports of investigations on the incident by Chris Hummer, the relationship between the two families was said to be "toxic." The video shows Simmons trying to break the fight up by separating the two, but when they got back together, something was said and Simmons stuck the woman fighting his sister. But it wasn't just one punch. After Taylor was on the ground, Simmons kept going with more punches before walking away with Taylor on the ground.
After the incident, Simmons posted this message on social media.
“I take full responsibility for my actions that occurred on Thursday evening. My apology goes out to the Taylor family and especially to Sophia Taylor. What was I thinking? Honestly, I wasn’t thinking. All I could think was this is my family, and I am supposed to defend my family.”
“I saw (Simmons’) quote, ‘I felt like I had to protect my family,’” says sports psychologist and anger management expert Dr. Mitch Abrams. “You look at the size of him and you’re like, ‘I think you’re trying to kill a cockroach with a bazooka.’ I’m not sure so many strikes were necessary.”
Necessary? No. None of this was necessary. Simmons could have acted differently. Period. He could have found other ways to end that altercation -- there are always other ways. But he didn't.
In the end, Simmons pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge of simple assault and was found guilty of malicious mischief. Simmons was fined $475 and paid $886 in restitution. Taylor was found guilty of disturbing the peace, while Simmons’ sister Ashley Bradley and mother (Brenda Bradley) were also charged with simple assault and disturbing the peace.
For the rest of those involved, that story ended there. For Simmons, it never will -- and it shouldn't. Simmons will carry his actions in that video forever, and people will only learn about it more and more the closer we get to the draft. But that's how it should be. Simmons has said, “I wish people would forget about this" but that's not how this works, nor should it be.
Simmons has been given a second chance -- not everyone does, and many would argue Simmons shouldn't have. Since he has been, according to those who have followed his career at MSU closely, he's made the most out of it in every way.
"Simmons has been – and this is no exaggeration – a model student-athlete. He has achieved better than a 3.0 GPA in human development and family science. He has landed on SEC Academic Honor Roll twice. He has participated in all sorts of community service, speaking at camps, schools and serving as a mentor in Macon. He won Mississippi State’s Newsom Award last spring for his work on the field, in the community and the classroom."
But no matter how much he does, Simmons cannot undo what happened on that day. Not every athlete gets a second chance. Heck, if I was Scott Strickin, I don't think I would have made the same decision to allow him to play ball and attend MSU. But he did, and Simmons has; he's been a better man for it.
Redemption is a touchy subject. We love the idea of second chances, but often don't like the idea of giving someone the position to make the most of it, or even let the opportunity happen at all. I would argue that most of the time athletes don't get another chance, it is often warranted, as football and other sports should be treated as a privilege before an athlete does wrong, just as much as we seem to talk about it after.
But maybe lines get blurred as much as they do because of the word we use. "Redemption", as if something we do in the future can or should make us forget that something in the past ever happened; that it is covered. You shouldn't forget; Simmons shouldn't either. He should be reminded of the person he was in that moment, the person that he never wants to be again. That's what making the most of a second chance truly is. It's not about the sport, and it's certainly not about forgetting.
We as humans get upset when things become complex. We would rather them be black and white. But the fact of the matter is that life is grey. It was up to MSU to decide whether Simmons was something more than the man who they watched in that video. It will be up to the NFL to do the same.
Second chances don't exist so people can forget. They exist so people can point to it, learn from it, and speak out against it -- after all, not everyone gets that opportunity. Second chances aren't about the success you have after you get them, though that freedom can come, if allowed. It's about looking back and teaching others that how you treat other human beings is more important than any game we play or privilege we have. That's what Simmons has reportedly done at Mississippi State, and now it's up to the NFL to decide whether they'll give him the opportunity to continue to do the same.