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The Titans’ Jeffery Simmons is the draft’s ultimate high-risk, high-reward player

Retired defensive end Stephen White thinks Simmons’ best pass-rushing days are ahead of him — probably.

The Tennessee Titans picked Jeffery Simmons 19th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Here’s what Stephen White had to say about Simmons just ahead of the draft:

Jeffery Simmons has a lot of good weapons to work with in his arsenal.

He’s a big guy, listed at 6’4 and 300 pounds, and he’s powerful. His strength is readily apparent when you watch his tape. Simmons also uses his hands well, both when taking on blocks and when escaping off of them.

In addition to his power, Simmons is also very athletic, and his lateral quickness is outstanding. He gets off the ball well and into the opposing backfield in a hurry on most plays.

Simmons’ flashes are about as good as you will see from a defensive lineman coming out this year. When he was really on the details, he was tough as hell to block. Whether he was running through a blocker, or around them, Simmons made exceptional plays in the four games of his that I watched.

The thing is, I just felt like if he could have put everything together a little more consistently, Simmons would have been an absolute terror in every game. The flashes were cool, but between them there were some plays that were a little disappointing. Not a lot of them, but just enough to give me some doubts.

Let me start with his positives first, however, and then we can get into where I see room for improvement at the end.

[How’s the pick? Check out our 2019 NFL Draft first round grades]

Simmons brings more to the table than just power.

Mississippi State had Simmons line up primarily as a nose tackle, either as a zero nose (head up on the center), or shaded to one side or the other in a one-technique. However, MSU also moved him around a little bit, which was great because I was able to see him perform from different alignments.

Simmons was strong enough to hold the point really well, even though he isn’t one of those super-sized nose tackles we have become accustomed to watching. When he really hunkered down he was tough as hell to move, even with double-teams.

He was good about consistently coming off and getting full extension with his arms when playing the run so as to keep blockers off of him, too. That allowed him to control opposing offensive linemen, then discard them when it was time to try to make a tackle.

Simmons’ game wasn’t only about power, though.

He was cat-quick when reacting to different blocking schemes, and Simmons made quite a few offensive linemen whiff by stunting sideways past them. Simmons had a real knack for that, especially when dealing with backside cutoff blocks.

I was also impressed with how quickly he was able to transition from being a run defender to a pass rusher when he recognized play-action pass. As soon as he noticed the quarterback dropping back, he would work to an edge on the blocker and start using his hands to try to escape off the block.

That should transfer well to the next level, especially if his new team has him play some nose tackle, too.

An NFL defensive coordinator will have no trouble finding a place for him.

His versatility is also most certainly going to be a big plus once he gets into the league. Simmons went from nose tackle to five-technique a few times and looked quite comfortable playing out there.

Being able to line up and perform well anywhere up front means that Simmons will be a fit in just about any defensive scheme you can think of. I’d argue that his best position will probably wind up being as a three-technique, especially on passing downs, but his best situation might be getting drafted by a team with a 3-4 base defense where he’s allowed to move around.

Simmons only had one sack and three pressures in the four games I watched, but you clearly could see he has tremendous pass-rush potential on tape.

He didn’t have a ton of opportunities to get after the quarterback, but he made the most of the ones he did get. He had a lot of talent around him — like his teammate Montez Sweat, who I feel should be selected in the top half of the first round — so he wasn’t always able to get to the quarterback first, but Simmons did have quite a few pass-rush wins in those four games.

One of the things that stood out to me when he rushed the passer was how Simmons was able to use his hands to grab a blocker by the forearm or elbow to keep them from being able to grab him.

It takes a lot of precision with your hand placement to be able to pull that off, and, frankly, there aren’t many guys I’ve seen who can do it on a regular basis.

There are a few flaws holding Simmons back, though.

I’m telling you, there was a lot to be impressed with when I watched Simmons play. I will say that if you only looked at Simmons’ highlights from those four games, it would be easy to believe he is going to be an absolute monster once he gets to the pros. And you know what, he just might be when it is all said and done.

However, there are some things from his tape I believe he needs to clean up if he really wants to maximize his potential as an NFL player.

Now, I won’t pretend to know how Simmons was coached in college, but it looked to me that he had a hard time playing reach blocks.

As a reminder, getting reached means an offensive lineman was able to gain outside leverage on the defender after the ball was snapped.

To me, the way Simmons kept getting reached looked like more of a technique issue than anything else, especially when Simmons was lined up as a nose tackle. For one thing, he appeared intent on trying to drive the center back, rather than expanding laterally. So he would look good with his penetration, but the runner would end up running right by him and through his gap.

You don’t get a cookie for knocking the center back five yards if you end up giving up a big gain in your gap. All too often, Simmons couldn’t make that play even though he had manhandled the center.

Hopefully his NFL coach will get him squared away on how to play those reach blocks a little better than he did in college.

It is almost a football karma thing where whenever you are out of your gap, somehow, someway, the ball seems to find you. It might not have always worked out that way in college, but in the NFL, with running backs who have better vision, you will get exposed if you aren’t where you are supposed to be on defense.

Another concern of mine was every so often Simmons would get caught either guessing the play wrong, or trying to look into the backfield before he had actually taken on and defeated the blockers in front of him.

And the results, in either situation, were not pretty at all.

To be clear, I’m not knocking Simmons for getting driven off the ball a few times because that is going to happen to pretty much any defensive lineman who plays the game long enough.

I’m talking about plays where he got caught slipping and then ended up on stuck on an offensive lineman-sponsored joyride five yards downfield.

I do like the fact he didn’t quit on those plays, but he never should have gotten knocked around like that in the first place. My old defensive line coach, Rod Marinelli, used to say “see a little to see a lot,” and I believe somebody needs to give Simmons that same sage advice.

The blockers will tell you where the ball is going on just about every play if you read your keys well. There is no need to get nosey and try to look past them into the backfield. If you just play what you see in front of you, then you never have to worry about getting caught slipping in the first place.

Simmons still has tremendous upside, even if he is a bit of gamble.

If Simmons can clear up these issues after he gets drafted, I believe he will be an outstanding NFL player.

Physically, he has all the traits teams covet in a defensive lineman, and he showed superb technique when he was really on top of his game. If he can just take his consistency to the next level, I can certainly see Simmons developing into a Pro Bowl-type of player a few years down the road. That is particularly true if his new team puts him in favorable pass-rush positions.

I think his best days rushing the passer are ahead of him, to tell you the truth.

There are no guarantees, however. His flashes may never turn out to be much more than that. I don’t think there is any question about whether Simmons is talented enough to be a starter in the NFL, but there are some doubts, at least for me, about whether he will ever be an elite player or not, especially since he just tore his ACL earlier this year.

I do believe he has that potential, and potential is like crack for general managers every spring.

Right now, based strictly on his tape, I would have Simmons ranked third out of the five defensive tackles that I have broken down this spring so far. He would be behind Quinnen Williams and Ed Oliver, but ahead of Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence.

With the injury, I am skeptical any team will take the risk of selecting him on the first night, but if Simmons goes to the right situation and sharpens up his game a little, there’s good reason to believe he could eventually be the best defensive tackle in this loaded draft class.

Good luck to him in his rehab.

For the purposes of this breakdown I watched former Mississippi State defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons play against Kentucky, Florida, Alabama, and Ole Miss. Those represented the fourth, fifth, 10th, and 12th games on Mississippi State’s schedule last season, respectively.