Entering the 2020 NFL Draft, former Clemson offensive lineman John Simpson did not have a good feel for which team he might land with. But after a conversation with Las Vegas Raiders general manager Mike Mayock leading up to the draft, Simpson was more confident that one of the 32 organizations in the league would want him to be a part of their squad.
As it turned out, it was Mayock and the Raiders that gave Simpson the call, trading up to the No. 109 overall selection to take him with the third pick of the fourth round.
“I never really had an idea of where I was going,” Simpson told reporters on a conference call after being drafted. “I talked to the GM like a week before the draft, and it kind of made me feel comfortable to know that I was going to get drafted. But just to know that I’m going with the Raiders, man, it’s really huge.”
“Clemson West”, as the Raiders are becoming increasingly known, also drafted former Clemson safety Tanner Muse in the third round of this year’s draft after selecting Clelin Ferrell, Trayvon Mullen and Hunter Renfrow in last year’s draft.
When Simpson was drafted, it set a Clemson record for the shortest span between two Clemson players being picked by one team, as he was selected nine picks after the Raiders took Muse with the 100th pick.
Simpson can’t wait to reunite with Muse and his other former teammates in Silver and Black.
“All those guys – Mullen, Cle, Tanner, Hunter – all those guys, we’re all like brothers,” Simpson said. “It’s just a bond that you can’t break.”
Simpson, the first Clemson offensive lineman drafted since Brandon Thomas in 2014 (third round), doesn’t know exactly what his role will be with the Raiders. He would prefer to man the left guard spot he has the most experience at, rather than right guard, but either way he plans to put his head down, go to work and do whatever is asked of him as well as he can.
“Right now, I’m going to just go in there and compete as much as I can,” he said. “I’m not really sure what role I’m going to have for sure, but whatever that is, I’m going to try to do it and do it at my best.”
Simpson played both guard positions for Clemson in 2017 before starting a combined 29 games at left guard in 2018 and 2019, helping the Tigers post a 29-1 record during those two seasons. The North Charleston, S.C., native earned consensus All-American honors as a senior.
While Simpson was considered one of the top guard prospects in this year’s draft, the knocks on him from some analysts were that he’s a bit slow getting off the ball and needs to clean up his footwork. Simpson is aware that he has room to improve in those areas and has been trying to do just that.
“I do a lot of ladder drills. I do a lot of sand work now,” he said. “I’m working in the sand pit doing ladders, and I’m also doing change-of-direction drills and things like that because I do know that’s one of my downfalls. I’m also working on trying to get my hands better, using my hands to where I make contact instead of using my hat. Just things like that I’m trying to do every day to get better.”
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