As a recruit from Olathe North High School in Olathe, Kan., Isaiah Simmons wasn’t highly touted by the major recruiting services, nor did he boast an impressive offer list relative to many other more high-profile prospects.
However, Clemson saw a lot of potential in Simmons and did not care how many stars he had by his name. The Tigers took a chance on him, offering him late in the 2016 recruiting cycle following the departure of a few defensive backs to the NFL, and that decision paid off in a big way for both them and Simmons.
After redshirting as a true freshman in 2016, the versatile defender transitioned from safety in 2017 to the starting nickel/SAM linebacker position in 2018 and was eventually named Clemson’s first-ever Butkus Award winner as the nation’s top linebacker in 2019, only his second year at the position. Simmons contributed nine tackles in Clemson’s national championship victory over Alabama to conclude the 2018 season and went on to become the sixth unanimous All-American in school history this past season.
“In high school with the offers I had, I always felt like I could do better,” Simmons told reporters recently. “I had 16 offers, but I just felt like I was good enough to play at some of the schools that were the football powerhouses. Clemson ended up coming and offering me a month before signing day. I went there, visited there, fell in love with them, and ever since then, it’s been history.”
Simmons further etched his name in Clemson history during the 2020 NFL Draft when he was selected in the first round (No. 8 overall) by the Arizona Cardinals last Thursday, becoming Clemson’s 12th top-10 pick all-time and, including the No. 4 overall pick of Clelin Ferrell by the Raiders last year, gave the Tigers back-to-back drafts with a top-10 selection for the third time in school history.
Simmons also became the first Clemson linebacker taken in the first round since Stephone Anthony in 2015 (No. 31 by the New Orleans Saints).
“I knew that I could end up in Arizona, but coming into the draft, I really had no idea where I was going to end up going,” he said. “So, now that I know, I’m beyond excited and can’t wait.”
Joining the Cardinals is even more exciting for Simmons because he will be teaming up with former Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, a four-time Pro Bowler who was traded to Arizona in March after spending the first seven seasons of his NFL career with the Houston Texans.
“We don’t really have a big relationship, but I look forward to building one with him,” Simmons said of Hopkins. “It’s always great to be around Clemson family. I seem to find them any and everywhere I go, regardless of if it’s alumni, or in this case, a former player. So, I’m really excited to be one of his teammates and take the team to the Super Bowl.”
Simmons played all over the field on defense for the Tigers last season, seeing action at safety, slot cornerback, outside linebacker, inside linebacker and perimeter cornerback. It remains to be seen exactly how the Cardinals will utilize his skill set, but he expects to be deployed at different positions on a week-by-week basis depending on the opponent and defensive game plan.
“I bring a lot of versatility, a guy that’s not narrowed down to one position,” he said. “I can be used in many ways to help the defense in any possible way. So, if I need to play safety one week or linebacker one week or they need me to get after the passer, I can get all that done.”
“To my understanding, I’m sure it will move around week to week, but everything always just depends on the team you’re playing and the scheme of the game plan,” Simmons said. “So, I’m not really opposed to honing in on one position and mastering that, but I’m also very, very open to being able to move around and play a similar role I did at Clemson.”
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