Meet Isaiah Simmons: The Freakiest Athlete In College Football

Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Some people transcend the laws of nature.  

Whether it be Byron Jones jumping out of the gym back in 2015, John Ross running his historical 4.22, or even Aaron Donald’s famous combine workout - the odd draft prospect can defy physics with their unbelievable athleticism. Clemson do-it-all defender Isaiah Simmons is one of those prospects.

A consensus 1st round prospect on a stacked Clemson squad, Simmons is the catalyst for the ferocious Tigers D, and it’s his athleticism and versatility that get the ball rolling for Dabo Swinney’s team. He’s had to overcome hurdles to get to this point, but Simmons has become one of the nation’s best - and proven himself as a potential franchise defender in the process.

The Player

Shockingly, Simmons wasn’t extremely sought after coming out of high school. Desperately wanting to play for the Arkansas Razorbacks, he spoke with their assistant coach at the time - Sam Pittman - about a potential offer at the university. 

 “Coach, I want to be here if you’ll have me. If you offer me a scholarship I’ll commit,” Simmons pleaded in his case to Pittman.

Unfortunately, no offer came.

It didn’t come after he ran a blistering 4.37 forty during a workout on Arkansas campus. Not after he won three long jump state titles and dominated at both receiver and defensive back during his time at Olave North High. Not even after earning first-team all-state honors.  

The offer he so desperately craved never came, but it turned out to be the best possible thing for Simmons’ future.

Despite the Razorbacks’ ineptitude, other teams were still interested - for the obvious reasons stated above. Simmons - a 3-star prospect - would go on to receive offers from all around the country, including teams like Michigan, Nebraska, Louisville, and Missouri. It was the Clemson Tigers and defensive guru Brent Venables that truly sparked Simmons’ interest, however, even if it turned out to be his “Plan B”.

Redshirting his first year on campus, Simmons participated with the track team in that initial season, gaining improved strength and weight. Coming into college at a slender 6’4”, 207 pounds, it was fair to wonder where Simmons would play, and it was that lack of an “identity” out on the field that caused teams like Arkansas to shy away. He didn’t fit a prototype. For Simmons, that didn’t matter.

Carving out a role in Venables’ defense during his redshirt freshman season, Simmons lined up as a traditional safety, using limited playing time to the best of his ability. Averaging a tackle every 6th snap, it was clear he was being groomed to take a leading role in the following season, and that’s exactly what came to fruition.

Used more creatively by the diabolical Venables in 2018, Simmons was shifted to the outside linebacker position, where his range and downhill speed could be maximized. The perfect fit for Venables’ blitz heavy scheme, Simmons became a “jack of all trades” that was able to rotate and shift wherever he was needed. Having bulked up to 230 pounds - and not losing speed in the process - Simmons’ improved frame helped him drastically in his new role new. Posting a team-high 97 tackles, he provided a key spark to ignite Clemson's national championship team, and it was fair to wonder if he would cash in on his magical title performance by declaring for the draft.

Eligible to declare as a redshirt sophomore, Simmons had a tricky choice. Projected from anywhere between the 1st and 3rd rounds, he wound up returning to school, and Simmons described it easily.

"No, I’m not OK with being a second or third-round draft pick. I’m a first-round draft pick,” Simmons explained to his dad during the difficult decision.

He needed to cement himself as a first-round pick - it was that simple. So Simmons returned. Thankfully, he couldn’t have made a better choice.

Now a firm 1st round player, Simmons has shown continued improvement in coverage, awareness, and recognition this season - turning from exciting and athletic defender to an elite star. Described by former Carolina Panther LB Jon Beason as “The most versatile player in America”, Simmons has proven you don’t need to fit the typical cookie-cutter mould to have success.

Of course, having his type of absurd athleticism certainly doesn’t hurt.

The Athlete

There’s no one quite like him.

I’ve tried to find ways to describe Simmons’ athleticism, but have come to a simple conclusion - you can’t.

Born into a strong athletic bloodline (father ran track and older brother played QB/S for Kansas) - Simmons’ physique is so absurd it’s hard to quantify.

An elite track star at the high school level, he won 3 straight long jump state titles, as well as running the 200-meter dash in a blistering 22.07 seconds - good for 2nd in the state. To put that in perspective, Odell Beckham ran it in 22.31 seconds at the same age. Sure, Simmons has gained weight since, but that’s still a stupid number for a linebacker.

Furthermore, Simmons has proven he still has that same speed from his early days, showcasing his elite burst in a video taken on May 1st of this year. The video shows him and fellow teammate Travis Etienne in a 40-yard dash, where both stay step for step the entire way.

Etienne is arguably the fastest RB in the nation - and an elite athlete himself. Simmons went toe to toe with him despite an extra 25 pounds, proving a sub 4.45 forty at the combine isn’t just possible, it’s probable.

Furthermore, Simmons posted a video of a workout during the summer where he reached an absurd 11-feet, 10-inches on a standing jump. The mark was a gym record and equated to a 40-inch vertical, a rare feat for a player of his size and stature.

Finally, Simmons’ broad jump is a reported 132 inches, which would have been the best mark of any LB at last year's combine.

I’ve blabbered enough, but you get it - Simmons is a freak. By no coincidence, it's that same freakiness that helps tie Simmons’ whole game together, wrapping a nice bow on an already quality gift.

As the top linebacker in college football and the best athlete in the nation, the sky's the limit for the 21-year-old Simmons - both as a player and athlete.

And even that might not be high enough.

Written By:

Carter Donnick

Publications Intern

Publications Intern at The Draft Network. Very Canadian.