Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons was selected No. 8 overall Thursday by the Arizona Cardinals in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Simmons is just the second Clemson linebacker in the last 22 years to be taken in the NFL Draft, joining Stephone Anthony, who was picked by New Orleans with the No. 31 overall pick in 2015. Overall, Simmons is the 33rd former Tiger in Clemson history to be selected in the opening round.
With Simmons’ selection, Clemson has now had at least one player taken in the first round of the draft in seven of the last eight years under head coach Dabo Swinney. Eight times since Swinney took over the program in 2009, the Tigers have had at least one first-round pick.
In all, Simmons is the 12th player under Swinney’s tutelage to be chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Coincidentally, Isaiah Simmons is the third Clemson player named Simmons to be drafted, and none are related. They also all played linebacker. Wayne Simmons, an outside backer, was picked No. 15 overall by the Green Bay Packers in the 1993 draft, while Anthony Simmons was picked by Seattle at No. 15 in the 1998 draft.
Simmons’ No. 8 pick in the NFL Draft is the highest ever by a Clemson linebacker.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables built an entire scheme around Isaiah Simmons’ unique skillset as a linebacker in 2019, which allowed the Tigers to finish third in scoring defense and sixth in total defense nationally.
Last week, some NFL teams, reportedly, were not sure about picking Simmons because they did not know what to do with him.
“If you got 53 people on your roster, he is like having 56,” Swinney said. “If there is something bad with that, they are just crazy. There is not a team out there that would not raise their hand and say, ‘You mean I can have 56 and everybody else would have 53?’ Everybody would do that. And that is what he means.”
Simmons finished the 2019 season with a team-best 107 tackles. He had 16 tackles for loss, including eight sacks. Both led the Clemson team. He also tied for the team lead with 10 passes broken up and was second with three interceptions.
At season’s end, Simmons was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, a unanimous First-Team All-American and the winner of the Dick Butkus Award, which goes to the nation’s top linebacker.
“The guy played over 100 snaps at five positions. What that says is he is smart. He has football knowledge,” Swinney said. “So, if his versatility, if it’s bad to be able to blitz, tackle, cover, catch and do all of those things, then I guess he is bad. But the last time I checked those are things that win games for you. So, he is a great football.”
The Clemson coach continued by saying Simmons will play anywhere and he will be great doing it.
“He is just unique, and in this day and age of football, when everybody is looking for a hybrid guy, to me he is the model of what you go find,” Swinney said. “But there are not many guys like him, so you have to kind of settle. With Isaiah Simmons, you don’t have to settle. He is elite wherever you want him to be.
“He is going to be a backer, but he brings an unbelievable skillset to the position. It will be interesting to see where he goes, but he is going to go high for a reason. He is going to be a great football player because it is important to him. He has character. He has work ethic. He knows how to compete, and he loves to compete.
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