Even though Isaiah Simmons has never played a down in the NFL, his drool-worthy college production and athletic testing numbers make him fun to project.
Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph plans to use him primarily as an inside linebacker early on, and there are myriad ways for him to affect the game from the box: he can cover a star tight end like George Kittle one week, then be a spy on Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson the next.
Simmons is talented enough to move to outside linebacker on third down, making it unclear to opponents if he is rushing the passer or dropping into coverage. He can also slide to strong safety in certain matchups to keep the inside linebacker duo of Jordan Hicks and De'Vondre Campbell on the field.
That versatility alone makes for a high ceiling, but it could be stratospheric if Simmons proves able to play nickel cornerback in the NFL. Simmons did it a lot at Clemson – finishing with a top-5 coverage grade among Power-5 conference linebackers, per Pro Football Focus -- and he models his game after Tyrann Mathieu and Derwin James, so clearly he'd love to do it professionally.
However, Simmons, at 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds, is about two inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than James, and he towers over the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Mathieu, which could make it harder for him to change directions compared to his smaller counterparts.
Joseph is interested to see if Simmons can hang with the jitterbug wideouts in the NFL.
"It's a lateral, it's a speed game," Joseph said. "It's a three wide-receiver game, so I think some of the things he did at Clemson are realistic, but some things won't be. He's going to be a linebacker for us. He's going to have some special roles versus certain opponents that we play. But I can't guarantee he's going to play corner for us or play safety for us full-time. But he's a 6-4 guy that ran a 4.3. He's got great lateral quickness. He's so long. He can make up the lack of some quickness with his length. I wouldn't bet against him, but I think what he did at Clemson, some of it will translate, and some of it won't."