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NFL Draft

Who Could Be CFB’s Next Isaiah Simmons-Type LB Prospect?

  • The Draft Network
  • July 8, 2021
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In recent seasons, we’ve watched NFL draft prospects such as Isaiah Simmons, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Jeremy Chinn, and others pass through the draft process and produce plenty of hype because of their versatility on defense. In an NFL climate that demands true linebackers to provide unicorn-type skills in order to thrive as a three-down player, prospects like the three above generated plenty of interest for their ability to fill a plethora of roles. 

We did not see Simmons wrangle success in bunches during his first year of NFL play in Arizona, but he did appear to settle in throughout the course of the season and Simmons’ status as a top-10 overall pick is a healthy reminder of just how highly he was coveted by the league. And while this year’s version of Simmons (or Chinn) is most frequently suggested to be Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton, that projection seems to be a bit of a miscast one for the Irish safety. In my opinion, Hamilton is more of a Derwin James/Jamal Adams type talent. But there is a player who has the physical gifts who can be the next version of an Isaiah Simmons in the draft process—a long, fluid, and explosive athlete who has the size and stature to be an NFL linebacker and be an asset in every phase of the position. 

Penn State linebacker Brandon Smith. 

Smith is very much the kind of athlete that is going to command the attention of scouts. He’s claimed to run a 4.38s 40-yard dash in a hand-timed effort and, at 6-foot-3 and 239 pounds, has the size and length to fully weaponize that range and explosiveness. Smith hasn’t had much of an opportunity to make a dent into expectations for his career and NFL draft projection; he was a first-time starter in 2020 and has just 22 appearances and nine career starts. 

Consider his canvas to be largely a blank slate entering 2021, but the broad brush strokes he’s imprinted onto his resume based on last season are enough to capture your imagination for what he can become. This is the caliber of an athlete who, as a prep star, took reps rushing the passer at defensive end, playing at stack linebacker, and covering opposing wide receivers.

All that potential is tempting, but thankfully 2020 brought us our first glimpses of Smith in action on the field as well, which did not disappoint. The end result of a 2020 debut as a starter was violent collisions, powerful tackle challenges, strong click and close ability in space as a zone defender, and a play style that was constantly to the end of the whistle. Smith got popped a few times for playing a little too close to the end of the whistle, getting personal fouls in the process, but wouldn’t you rather have a defender play too hot instead of too cold? TDN scout Drae Harris, talking about a separate prospect this summer, suggested you’d rather have to tell a player “woah there!” then coax them to “sic ‘em!” Give me the aggressive style of Smith every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

The Lions linebacker will look to command more attention from opposing offenses this season and a bigger role from his defense—although he did log eight tackles for loss in nine games last season and was plenty active as a pressure player as well. You don’t see many Big Ten defenders capable of running through former Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields as though he’s nothing, but Smith did exactly that on a late blitz against the Buckeyes.

I’m not saying Smith will be the next Simmons. But I am saying he can be. And even if he isn’t, the Nittany Lion is going to be hard to ignore starting in a few months.

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