Dion Sims collegiate career has been checkered - one might say cursed. After a freshman season that concluded by his being named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team, his train went off the tracks when he pleaded guilty to felony receiving and concealing stolen property. Although the charge was later expunged, Sims was forced to sit out the 2010 season (he was granted a redshirt year) to deal with his legal troubles.
In 2011, Sims returned to the starting lineup but, thanks to a broken wrist, was limited to just 12 catches for 99 yards, none of which came in Michigan State's final seven contests. After a 2012 offseason in which he showed remarkable focus and dedication (losing 40 pounds and reducing his body fat by about six percent), Sims started off hot, nabbing a team-high 24 passes through the first five games. Unfortunately, he would again suffer a setback; an ankle injury sidelined Sims for almost a month. Sims finished the season with 36 catches for 475 yards and two touchdowns.
One of the reasons Sims receiving totals were so low is that, at 6-5 and 285 pounds, Sims looks - and blocks - like an offensive lineman. Indeed, most draft pundits rate him as the best blocking tight end in the draft class. But he's more than just a third tackle who will announce "run!" when inserted into the lineup. Sims shows impressive athleticism and has surprisingly good hands. At the Spartans' pro day, he marked 4.82 short shuttle and 7.07 three-cone drill times, bench pressed 26 reps and looked good running routes and catching the ball. Want proof? Here he is on tape against Boise State and Big Ten rival Northwestern.
Lets see what our collection of draft experts think of Sims and his game, shall we?
ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton): 9th-rated TE; 131st overall
Separation Skills: Average burst and doesn't show the ability to make crisp 90-degree cuts but fluid athlete for size. Shows some wiggle and savvy at the top of stem. Changes speeds and tempos breaks well. Throws upper body moves at safeties when attacking deep coverage. Excels at locating and settling into pockets in zone looks.
Ball Skills: Has some problems adjusting to passes thrown behind him but catches most everything thrown between pads. Appears to have big hands. They swallow the football on film. Can extend arms and snatch balls thrown above head out of the air. Former basketball player that knows how to use frame to box out and makes plays in traffic. Shows the ability to high point fade routes in the red zone.
Big Play Ability: Doesn't have the vertical burst of elite receiving tight ends but long strider with enough speed to challenge downfield. A bigger threat after the catch than frame would suggest. Not going to run away from NFL pursuit but light on feet and flashes the ability to make the first defender miss. Catches the ball in stride. Can lower shoulder and pick up yards after contact.
Competitiveness: Not a mauler that wears defensive ends downs with a relentless four-quarter effort but above average effort as a blocker. Tough receiver that doesn't shy away from contact and makes plays over the middle. Runs hard and fights for yards after contact. Turns into a defender and looks to make play after interception.
Blocking: Technique needs work. Can do a better job of sinking and changing directions in pass protection. However, can improve in those areas and already an above average blocker for the position. Quick enough to get into position and has he balance to sustain once locked on. Above average upper body strength and flashes a strong punch. Smooth climbing up to the second level and covering linebackers. Does an excellent job of cutting off backside and creating cutback lanes.
Intangibles: Has reportedly matured during time at Michigan State. However, suspended for the 2010 season for his role in a crime ring that stole more than 100 laptops from the Detroit Public Schools. Pleaded guilty in September of 2010 to receiving and concealing stolen property and was sentenced to one year of probation and 15 hours of community service. Reinstated in March of 2011.
National Football Post (Russ Lande): 7th-rated TE; 110th overall
Strengths: To say that Sims "looks the part of an NFL TE" would be a drastic under-statement as he has the size and physique that makes NFL teams drool. Once he gets moving at the snap, Sims accelerates to full speed quickly and has better than expected speed down for a big TE. Soft, natural hands combine with Sims' body control and coordination so that he can twist and adjust to make tough catches with remarkable ease. He shows no hesitation catching passes heading into traffic and can get up to win jump ball battles over defenders. While he could run more aggressively after the catch, Sims strength and athleticism help him to run through hits and arm/grab tackles to gain yards after contact. He has the size and natural strength to be a dominating blocker when he gives the effort and uses good technique.
Weaknesses: Sims without question frustrates with his lack of intensity and aggressiveness. For a TE with his size and natural strength, Sims is a below average blocker due to a lack of consistent effort. He often gets upright at the snap on run blocks and does not aggressively go get man. Rather he ends up just trying to get in the way as a blocker and is not consistently effective. For such a smooth athlete with good playing speed, Sims lack of explosiveness off the ball hinders his ability to get off the ball fast or get separation down the seam. Much more of a smooth route runner, Sims lacks a burst out of his cuts to get separation from NFL linebackers in man coverage.
Summary: After a junior season when he was not as dominant as was expected, Sims surprised many when he declared for the Draft. There has never been any doubt about Sims talent, but his lack of intensity/aggressively definitely limits his overall production; especially as a blocker and runner after the catch. Based on his film Sims was viewed as a likely third round pick, but after an outstanding Pro Day performance where he looked like "a first round pick" according to NFL sources in attendance, Sims' stock is definitely on the rise. Overall, the most likely scenario is that Sims will be a solid receiving tight end who frustrates coaches with his inconsistent blocking and lack of intensity/aggressiveness. However, if his coaches can motivate him to crank things up he has the talent to be an impact tight end who changes games as a receiver and blocker.
Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki): 9th-rated TE; not in top 150
Positives: Rare size and overall body mass. Surprisingly athletic. Soft hands to secure ball away from body. Load to bring down after the catch. Potential to improve as an in-line blocker.
Negatives: Can better sculpt his body - 17.1 percent body fat. Thick, tight hips. Average hip roll and blocking power. Needs to improve blocking technique. Can improve contact balance and sustain. Not a finisher. Concentration drops.
Summary: Could have used another season to develop, and was affected by mid-season ankle injury, but offers intriguing development value with three-down potential, given his size and athleticism. Immaturity could be limiting, and character concerns have already knocked him off some draft boards. Dropped weight in advance of the Combine and performed better than he shows athletically in on-field evaluation.
Ourlads (Dan Shonka): 6th-rated TE; 120th overall
Junior entry. Started 12 of 39 games played. Athletic for a big man. Can reach and extend for the ball away from his body. A clutch first-down target with 26 of his 33 regular season catches moving the chains. Tough height, weight, and speed matchup that can catch and run with power. Not easy to tackle. Good body control and foot quickness. Big target with soft hands. Good run after catch ability. Not easy to tackle. Can move defender at point of attack. Durability is a question mark. Missed three games with an ankle injury in 2012. Broken wrist in 2010. Knee injury in high school. Some off field red flags that need to be cleaned up. Grades out as a solid backup with ascending skills and measurable. Has NFL talent.
On his national conference call, NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock was asked about several Spartan players. In his response, he offered that "Sims is probably if not the best blocking tight end in the draft, one of the top two or three, and because of that, provides value probably in the fourth round." Indeed, our pundits (Other than Nawrocki) seem to agree; they place Sims in a tight window, between picks 110 and 131 - smack dab in the mid to late fourth round. Who am I to argue? I'll place Sims in round four on my 2013 "little board."
Since Martellus Bennett left after the 2011 season, the Cowboys have been trying to replace him with a similar player, a plus-blocking in-line "Y" tight end. Although they brought in ultra-athletic James Hanna in last year's draft, they have failed to replace Bennett. In Sims and the other tight end prospects in whom the Cowboys have expressed interest, we can see them rectifying that failure. Given the dropoff in the running game that was at least in part caused by Bennett's departure, I'll happily support their drafting someone with a similar game...as long as it's on the draft's third day. Any sooner? No thanks!
Next up: Rutgers TE D.C. Jefferson