Boston College safety Justin Simmons is a player the Detroit Lions have investigated pretty heavily in the scouting process. From the Shrine Game, where I saw them having dinner firsthand, through the Combine and BC’s pro day, the 6’2” safety has spent a lot of time with various team reps.
The first thing that stands out about Simmons is how fluidly he moves. There is no wasted motion, no false steps, no herky-jerky breaks. He’s got lean muscle at 202 pounds but doesn’t look as big in person as his measurements. That makes his movement look even sleeker.
One of his best qualities is that Simmons is an all-around player, effective against both the run and pass. He normally played deep centerfield as a senior, and as a result he didn’t get opportunities to attack downhill against the run very often. He still proved a reliable tackler, however; I watched five games and saw him miss just two tackling opportunities.
That does lead to my biggest criticism about the Stuart, FL product: tackling opportunities. He’s not an aggressive pursuit safety. It often appears as if he’s overly cognizant of being the last line of defense and prefers to let others try and make the play before he intervenes. For Lions fans, picture the polar opposite of Louis Delmas, who tried to make the tackle on every play. That is not Simmons’ game.
His coverage skills are a different story. Simmons is more aggressive in going after the ball and forcing the issue. He played half his junior season at corner and didn’t look out of place in doing so other than having some tightness when matched up against smaller, quicker wideouts.
Simmons picked off five passes as a senior. Two came against Notre Dame, though both were a case of offensive errors (one a tip-drill rebound) more than anything great by No. 27. But against Clemson he showed the centerfielder type of range and playmaking NFL teams covet at safety. Simmons is barely visible in the top middle of the screen at the beginning of the clip.
When you watch that play, look at the quarterback (Deshaun Watson, an early candidate to sit atop every 2017 mock draft). His eyes lead Simmons to the play, and the safety is aware enough of the field to see he has no other viable coverage option. That is the kind of football intelligence and quick recognition Simmons brings to the table.
I saw a lot of that up close during Shrine Game practices. He was very quick to pick up on the route combinations and QB progressions. Simmons was often calling out the coverages and helping get his unfamiliar teammates lined up and aware of the situations. That is was well-received by fellow All-Stars speaks to his natural leadership and the respect of his peers.
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The athleticism is solid. His Combine performance was pretty impressive:
- 4.61 40-yard dash
- 3.58 3-cone drill
- 3.85 short shuttle
- 40” vertical
- 126” broad jump
- 16 bench press reps
The explosive metrics (vertical, broad, bench) are all strong for a safety, and the agility numbers (the shuttles) are outstanding. The 40 time is okay, but it does indicate a lack of long speed. This deficiency does show on film, and it plays into the lack of aggression in seeking out tackling opportunities. Because he’s not going gung ho off the bat, his lack of closing speed really stands out.
In Detroit he would pair with Glover Quin, who does have that sort of speed. Both are more coverage-oriented safeties, and that would mean the linebackers would have to step up more in the run defense. Because of this, if the Lions are going to take Simmons I would strongly recommend they also take a more physical run-defending presence at inside linebacker to play in front of him.
Simmons is worthy of the Lions’ third-round pick. It is doubtful he is ever a major difference-maker, but he is a very solid, high-floor safety who can play reliably in all situations.