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It seems to happen every year.
A promising draft prospect suffers an injury leading up to the event, derailing their stock. Last offseason, it was Wisconsin CB Nick Nelson, a second-day talent who fell to the Raiders on Day 3 after tearing his meniscus in early April.
Two years ago, likely first-round CB Sidney Jones ruptured his Achilles at Washington's pro day on March 11, which let him fall to the Eagles at No. 43 overall and basically red-shirting during their Super Bowl season.
So, although I feel like I jinxed Jeffery Simmons, the All-American defensive tackle from Mississippi State who tore his left ACL while training in Florida last weekend days after we first mentioned him in this newsletter, it's obviously one of the unfortunate perils associated with this process.
How significantly will the injury affect Simmons' stock? As you'll see below, PFW draft expert Greg Gabriel had some concerns, albeit seemingly shared by few in the draft community, with Simmons' game, even prior to the injury. But most sites I've perused had Simmons as a potential top-15 prospect, one of perhaps up to seven (!) interior defensive lineman who might have fit in the first-round puzzle.
The good news for Simmons is that players are coming back stronger than ever from ACL injuries, and his came perhaps early enough to salvage the latter part of his rookie season. Moreover, the need for interior game wreckers has never been greater. Amazingly, the NFL's top three sack artists in 2018 were interior rushers, and two more finished in the double digits — and a healthy Simmons certainly appears to fill that bill. He logged 32 ½ tackles for loss, seven sacks, seven passes defensed and five forced fumbles in three seasons with the Bulldogs, showing disruptive ability alongside fellow first-round talent Montez Sweat.
As a reminder, no stat for college defensive linemen is more predictive of NFL success than tackles for loss, and Simmons ranked second among D-linemen in football's best conference in TFLs per game (1.3). Although his sack production (only two last season) doesn't necessarily excite, PFF charted him with 34 total pressures and 23 hurries, once again among the most in the vaunted SEC.
Of course, as we mentioned in last week's newsletter, Simmons has more than a torn ACL to answer for in his evaluation. He wasn't invited to the combine because he was arrested in 2016 for assaulting a woman, a heinous act caught on video. And though Simmons, by most accounts, has worked very hard to turn over a new leaf, it'll be another factor for clubs to consider, especially ones still tempted to draft him in Round 1, where they gain an extra year of team control.
That might seem like a longshot now, when Simmons could be more in the Jones, if not Jaylon Smith-Myles Jack draft range. Remember, those prospects — considered top-10 picks when healthy — were selected No. 34 and 36 by the Cowboys and Jaguars, respectively, three years ago. They were still considered risks and required precious draft capital, but their Round 2 slots were accompanied with contracts including only 50-70 percent guarantees, not 100 percent like the majority of first-round deals.
And Smith and Jack overcame their injuries and draft slots to become among the game's more dynamic linebackers and leaders of elite defenses. Jones should be in line to start in Year 3, but at worst he provides the Eagles valuable insurance with CB1 Ronald Darby set to hit the market. Nelson is also in the starting nickel mix for the Raiders after earning valuable on-the-job training in the second half of 2018.
Simmons, then, was undoubtedly dealt a crappy hand, but there's plenty of similar recent success stories and he's seemingly determined to be the next in line.
"I just want everyone to know that no matter what, God makes no mistakes," Simmons said in a statement on his Twitter account. "He is preparing me for GREATER things ahead! He has shown me so much in my life over these past couple years and now is the time for me to NOT give up! I will undergo surgery next week and then begin the rehab process. I am going to come back stronger and more determined than ever. If it's in God's will, no matter which team drafts me this April, I will work extremely hard to get healthy and become a leader in that organization.
"As I demonstrated throughout my three years at Mississippi State, I pride myself on my work ethic, commitment and leadership on and off the field. I will do the same at the next level, becoming the best teammate I can be and helping my teammates get better while I prepare to take the field. Thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout this process. I love you guys!"
2019 NFL Draft Guide Sneak Peek: Greg Gabriel's (pre-ACL injury) Jeffery Simmons report
6040e – 298e – 5.05e
Adequate size, athleticism. Plays hard every snap. Flashes as a run defender and pass rusher. Chases in pursuit.
Average instincts — too often unaware of where the ball is. Very average as a pass rusher (2 sacks in ’18). Gets tall, letting blockers into his body. Average hand use and can be slow to shed.
Way We See It
Simmons declared despite being an unknown. He was too easily blocked on the tapes I evaluated. Average pass rusher who isn’t disruptive in the run game. On the plus side, Simmons is athletic, hard working and has some growth potential — he should get stronger in an NFL weight program. I project him as a backup 5-technique at the next level.
Grade B 6.4 Round 2-3
— Greg Gabriel