Going into the off-season, the Browns were in need of two safeties, two offensive tackles and linebackers. These were the top priorities. Luckily for Cleveland fans, two safeties, a middle linebacker and a right tackle were signed in free agency.
Cleveland owns the 10th pick in the first-round of the draft which just happens to be rich in offensive tackle prospects in each round.
Awesome. And, and, and - there are five offensive tackles linked to being taken in the first-round of this year’s college draft: RT Jedrick Wills, Jr. of Alabama, Houston LT Josh Jones, RT Mekhi Becton of Louisville, LT/RT Andrew Thomas from Georgia and Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, who has played both positions in college. Therefore, the Browns should be able to have their pick of two or even three of these dancing elephants and fill yet another need for years to come.
And while taking a guy to man the left tackle spot is ultra-important, the defense has quite a few holes from last year as well. The linebacker position is far from being solved. Cleveland let go veterans Adarius Thomas and Christian Kirksey and then allowed MLB Joe Schobert to sign with Jacksonville in free agency.
But, what if the Browns could get Clemson Tigers LB Isaiah Simmons without having to trade up? With your GM hat on, would you take him? The better question might be, why wouldn’t you take him?
Who is Isaiah Simmons?
Before the angle of actually drafting Simmons is revealed, some thoughts on the player himself. First off, most mock draft sites have him listed as the fourth best player in this year’s draft. This places him the third best defensive player behind a pair of Ohio State athletes: EDGE rusher Chase Young and CB Jeffrey Okudah.
To say that Simmons (6’, 4” 238 pounds) has versatility is an understatement. In his first playing year for Clemson after a redshirt freshman year, he started 14 games at strong safety and had 45 tackles, six pass defenses, three tackles for loss, one forced fumble plus a single sack.
In his sophomore year as he put on more weight, he was switched to the SAM linebacker spot and beat out senior athlete Jalen Williams. Simmons started all 15 games. His stats that year were 88 total tackles, two sacks, nine tackles for loss, one interception, three forced fumbles, six pass defenses and scored a touchdown on a pick-six. In the college football playoffs, Clemson handled Notre Dame 30-3 and then clobbered Alabama 44-16 in the National Championship Game. Simmons led the Tigers in total tackles for the two games.
At this point, Simmons had been three years removed from high school and could have applied for the NFL draft. He was projected to be drafted somewhere in the first two rounds. He had just won a National Championship, led the Tigers in tackling during the season, and was guaranteed a pretty sizable contract. Instead, he returned to Clemson in order to improve his play.
And improve he did. His junior year Simmons remained as the strongside linebacker and busted out with 104 total tackles, eight sacks, three interceptions, eight pass defenses, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and 16.5 tackles for loss during 15 games. Clemson again played for the National Championship against the LSU Tigers, but lost 42-25. In that game, Simmons had seven tackles, one sack, two pass defenses and two tackles for loss.
Here is what The Draft Network says of Simmons:
“Isaiah Simmons is a blue chip prospect with unparalleled versatility. His unbelievable length and athletic gifts make him a sensible fit for a number of positions, including MIKE, SAM, SS and a nickel LB in coverage. Simmons has explosive qualities and will be an asset vs. the run and pass alike. He’s a game changing player who should be coveted as a true 3-down linebacker/hybrid defender who can be the pivotal chess piece in a weekly defensive game plan.”
If you watched any amount of Clemson games, you saw that Simmons was basically all over the field at every moment.
His final year with the Tigers, Simmons was awarded the Butkus Award (for the nation’s best linebacker), First Team All-ACC, ACC Defensive Player-of-the-Year, and was voted Unanimous First Team All-American.
DraftCountdown.com has this assessment:
“The uber-athletic Simmons is an extremely unique prospect who champions would call a linebacker / defensive back hybrid while detractors might use the phrase positional ‘tweener. Regardless of the label Simmons is a rangy, versatile chess piece ideally suited for a modern defense. This past season Simmons lined up at outside and inside linebacker, safety, at cornerback both outside and in the slot and even notched 7 sacks rushing off the edge. Questions about his position at the next level make him somewhat of a difficult evaluation for scouts, but the bottom line is Simmons is a playmaker whether it’s as a linebacker, safety, cornerback or edge pass rusher.”
Simmons is one of the most energizing players in this year’s college draft, and he just happens to be a linebacker.
Just how would Simmons slip to the 10th pick?
Football is a game. And with Simmons, we are going to play another game: dominoes. But instead of playing these tiles flat for points, we are doing the stand-up falling dominoes variety.
In the first-round of the NFL draft, there are lots of trades. 2017 set the record for the most trades in the draft with 37 until last year’s 40 whooping trades. The Seattle Seahawks had only four picks before draft day and ended up with 11 new players.
But this year is quite different. Coaches, scouts, the owners and GMs are not even going to be in the same room come draft day while the NFL has augmented a “virtual draft” system. That means that clubs aren’t going to have the liberty of fast communication during the actual draft and therefore it is estimated that the amount of trades this year will become an all-time low. So, for this situation and for argument-sake, we are leaving every team where it is for these reasons and also because you cannot accurately predict which teams will swap places with another.
The first overall pick is AFC North division foe Cincinnati. They will pick LSU quarterback Joe Burrow.
The second selection is owned by the Washington Redskins who will grab who many feel is the best player in the draft with Chase Young of Ohio State.
Choice number 3 are the Detroit Lions, owners of one of the worst pass defenses in the league. Last year, the Lions were dead last in this category allowing 284.4 yards a game, dead last in total yards allowed per game with 4,551 and tied for last in total interceptions (7). Detroit wants to change that and will take Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah with the third pick.
Up next is Domino Number 1 - the New York Football Giants with the 4th pick
Just like the Browns and every other club that is drafting in the Top 10, the Giants have many holes to fill with quality players. Make that quality new players. Their defense was also pretty bad last year, and Simmons should be a lock right here. But, hold that thought.
New York addressed many of their defensive woes in free agency. They signed CB James Bradberry to a three-year $43.5 million contract, one of the best available linebackers in Blake Martinez to a $30.7 million three-year deal, another LB Kyler Fackrell (one-year, $4.6 million) and then franchised their own DT Leonard Williams, which will cost them $17 million.
They also signed a free agent tight end, plus tendered four of their own players. This has left them with just over $11 million remaining. And they still need an offensive tackle - or two. With this in mind, all of the Top 5 offensive tackles projected in the first-round are sitting there with the fourth pick.
The Giants have a young quarterback, a second-year running back, spent money on a young first-round tight end, and own a porous offensive line. They need help with protection of last year’s first-round pick QB Daniel Jones. They aren’t real satisfied with Nate Solder at the left tackle spot, but are shackled with his four-year $62 million deal he signed back in 2018. They are better off keeping him than being sacked with a large amount of dead money. But the right tackle position has been a revolving door for years. And the draft’s best right tackle is sitting there.
The Giants drop the first domino and select Alabama RT Jedrick Wills.
Up next are the Miami Dolphins and the Los Angeles Chargers with picks 5 and 6, respectively. They will take quarterbacks, precisely Tua Tagnovailoa of Alabama and Oregon’s Justin Herbert. The Chargers will take whichever signalcaller Miami doesn’t select.
Which brings us to Domino Number 2 - the Carolina Panthers with the 7th pick
What does Carolina need is the first question to ask.
Let’s start with some statistics. One thing for sure – numbers don’t lie. On offense they were 20th in passing yards per game and points scored, but 31st in touchdowns scored. Their defense ranked a respectable 13th in passing yards allowed per game (231.0) while their rushing defense finished 29th against the run (143.5). Ouch.
And then there are two little stats that may reveal the Panthers’ plans for the draft: Carolina was second in the most interceptions thrown (21), and more importantly - the most sacks allowed with 58.
The Panthers can’t stop the run, and they can’t block their own grandmas. However, they have been blessed with six wonderful potential draft prospects staring them in the face: offensive tackles Wirfs, Bechton, Thomas and Jones, Auburn DT Derrick Brown, and Simmons who is still on the board.
Which free agents Carolina signed may provide a clue of what direction they will follow. The Panthers signed three (yes, three) quarterbacks: Teddy Bridgewater from the New Orleans Saints, their own backup Kyle Allen, and P.J. Walker which lit up the XFL. The Panthers also inked five wide receivers in Seth Roberts (Baltimore Ravens), Pharoh Cooper (Arizona Cardinals), DeAndrew White (Panthers), Keith Kirkwood (Saints), plus the second best receiver in the free agent market in Robby Anderson (New York Jets).
Other offensive players signed were offensive guard John Miller (Bengals) and tight end Seth DeValve.
On defense, Carolina signed a defensive tackle, a defensive end, linebacker, and two safeties including one of the most coveted: Tre Boston.
The Panthers sport one of the game’s best young running backs in Christian McCaffrey. They now have a new starting QB with Bridgewater, a tight end to replace the departed Greg Olson, and five new receivers. But when the offensive line cannot sustain blocks and guys keep pouring into the pocket all game/every game, interceptions go up (2nd most ranking), average yards per reception go down (28th ranking), offensive ranking falls out (dead last #32), and that all-important statistic: sacks go way up.
And in this case, all the way up to 58 allowed in a single season.
There is a lot riding on the Panthers’ offense beginning with Bridgewater. Carolina didn’t sign all those receivers just to have constant pocket collapses. The most significant move they can make is to protect their new quarterback and continue to open holes for their prized running back. Carolina drops the next domino and selects Louisville OT Mekhi Becton.
Which brings us to Domino Number 3 - Arizona Cardinals and the 8th pick
The Cardinals had so many needs they made a list: offensive tackle, linebacker, tight end, cornerback, wide receiver, safety, EDGE rusher, defensive tackle, offensive guard and running back.
They were very, very busy in free agency and filled most of their most pressing needs during the first week of the free agent market period. Solved the linebacker issue with Devon Kennard (Lions) and De’Vondre Campbell (Cardinals). DT Jordan Phillips was signed from the Buffalo Bills, while All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was obtained in a stunning trade with Houston. And Arizona placed the transition tag on running back Kenyan Drake.
On offense, the Cards were in the bottom third in passing yards per game, touchdown passes, total offensive ranking, but was 10th in the rushing game. Arizona has placed quite a bit of their future on quarterback Kyler Murray. On the offensive line, they re-signed LT D.J. Humphries before he was able to hit the free agent market, and have inked LG Max Garcia and OT Justin Murray while RG Justin Pugh and C Mason Cole are holdovers.
The offense could use an infusion of firepower. The temptation is just too much to bear, and with their pick they take WR Jerry Jeudy, the speedster from Alabama to pair with Hopkins and the last season of the aging Larry Fitzgerald who now has seen his replacement.
Which brings us to Domino Number 4 - the Jacksonville Jaguars with the 9th pick
Here it is - so close you can taste it. Jacksonville loves defense and loves to take defensive players in the first-round. They also lost several key components to their defense from last year.
And at their feet are LB Simmons, DT Brown and CB C.J. Henderson of Florida. Last season, the Jags were the 28th defense against the run and a respectable 16th against the pass. But this franchise filled their linebacker need with the signing of former Brown Joe Schobert to pair with the sensational Myles Jack. And they have a glaring need at cornerback and stopping the run.
The squeaky wheel gets the oil, and Jacksonville takes an Aaron Donald clone and selects DT Derrick Brown from Auburn to man the middle of their prized unit.
Which brings us to the Browns with the 10th pick
Commissioner: “The Cleveland Browns select Isaiah Simmons, linebacker, Clemson.”
Yes, Wirfs, Thomas and to some degree Jones are still on the board, and the Browns desperately need a left tackle.
But two things to remember: 1) Simmons is the fourth-rated player in the draft and can provide game-winning abilities, and 2) this draft is very rich in all rounds with offensive tackle prospects. In Round 2 Cleveland can find TCU’s Lucas Niang, Prince Tega Wanogho of Auburn, USC’s Austin Jackson, Ezra Cleveland from Boise State and who knows, maybe Josh Jones will slip into the second-round. Round 3 will offer Terrance Steele of Texas Tech and LSU’s Saahdiq Charles. So regardless, the left tackle position can be solved without taking one in the first-round.
And consider this: the trail to win the AFC North runs through Baltimore. The Browns need a counter-answer to Ravens’ QB Lamar Jackson.
Is it really that simple to get Simmons? Of course not.
Or.....maybe it is.
Still have your GM hat on? Would you take Isaiah Simmons if he was still available at number 10?
This poll is closed
Would definitely draft an offensive tackle instead
Depends - on which of the five OT’s were left