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Over the years I've noticed that I am not the greatest evaluator of draft talent, but that I do seem to have a particular knack. I can find those guys that people think are "good picks later in the draft" who are never going to be there in a million years. I was less successful at this last year, as my picks Chris Conley, Grady Jarrett, and Zach Zenner all went later than I predicted. But this year I feel like I have a sure pick.
What if I told you there was a safety in this draft who was regarded as one of the surest tacklers in the class, whose angles are extremely good, who was involved in ten turnovers (five interceptions, two forced fumbles, and three recoveries) in twelve games, and who racked up these stats against teams like Notre Dame, Clemson, and FSU? What if he was 6' 2" with elite athleticism like a 40" vertical, 126" broad jump, 6.58 sec 3-cone (no, I did not transpose the 5 and the 8) and 3.85 sec short shuttle? What if he's known as a locker room leader who directs the secondary and is already showing the desire and inclination to coach? What if I told you he's supposed to go in the 6th round or later?
"Yeah, right." right?
Justin Simmons meets all of those descriptions. And, let's be clear, guys that are 6' 2" simply do not turn in sub 4 second short shuttles much less sub 6.6 3-cone times any more than one simply walks into Mordor.
Yet the highest I've found him ranked so far is 184 overall. One site has him at 303. Walter Football says round six to free agent.
Why? I did see one draft pundit who grades him as a second-round player... and that was before the insane combine numbers. This particular guy (John Ledyard) lists Simmons as a "good, not great, athlete" without great change of direction skills. The combine numbers belie that take. But if this guy looks good enough on film for someone to put him out there as a second-rounder, why didn't he fly up boards when those ridiculous 3-cone and short shuttle numbers went up alongside a top notch vertical?
As near as I can tell, Simmons will fall because he's a little thin and runs a 4.61, indicating that his short area quickness doesn't translate into top end speed. Presumably the combination means he doesn't have the speed to play center field nor the beef to be in the box. But I don't think either of those is a given. Lack of speed can be overcome by an instinctive awareness of triangulation and quick reaction times. As far as being too small to play in the box, Byron Jones gave us several lessons last year in what a tall, quick-twitch athlete can do to slot receivers and tight ends. Simmons is taller, heavier (though not much), and has much better 3 cone and short shuttle times. While Simmons doesn't quite leap out of the arena like Jones, he's certainly not lacking in hops or explosiveness. But let's go to the tape.
Range and speed? Check. First watch him read and react to this Deshaun Watson pass:
Then watch him run down Notre Dame speedster C. J. Prosise, who had an unobstructed path to the edge and beyond:
That good angle and sure tackle are the things that will make Cowboys fans very happy. And they show up again and again. Simmons excels at getting to the play and getting the man down.
But in addition to playing the "safe" part of safety and making sure guys don't get by him, he does this other sort of thing, too. Watch where Simmons comes from to make this play:
At first glance this may look like a horrible decision (and it's not the greatest one), but the receiver had a step on the three guys behind him and the QB is laying it out where he thinks only the WR has a shot to get there. Unfortunately it's a little underthrown and Simmons shows that despite his average forty time, he has the range to close from the sideline to midfield to make a play.
Oh, and by the way, he's a pretty decent special teamer, too (the second play the receiver had called for a fair catch and was penalized for running).
It's looking more and more like Jalen Ramsey might go to San Diego at the moment. If that happens, Dallas fans need not fear for upgrading their backfield. I would be shocked if Simmons hangs around to the 6th. In fact, I'll be angry, because there's no way Dallas should let him hang around that long.