Draft Watch: Bob Quinn Enamored With Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons

He could be Detroit's missing piece on defense.

Will Burchfield
February 26, 2020 - 2:58 pm
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Whether the Lions pick third overall or trade down, there's a good chance they'll target defense in the first round of the draft. Specifically, one of these three names. 

Ohio State CB Jeffrey Okudah. Auburn DT Derrick Brown. And Clemson LB Isaiah Simmons. 

All three players have been linked to the Lions in various mock drafts. All three players would immediately improve their defense. 

Okudah would be a potential replacement for Darius Slay, who seems destined to be traded. Brown would help mitigate the loss of Damon Harrison and possibly A'Shawn Robinson. 

And then there's Simmons, the 2019 Butkus Award winner as the nation's top linebacker, who would give Matt Patricia's defense the speed and athleticism it sorely lacks in the middle of the field. Remember what one rival exec said of the Lions at the end of last season?

"They just don’t have a lot of speed defensively. They’ve got a lot of power guys. They’re like the ’85 Giants without ‘LT’ (Lawrence Taylor). They like big, slow guys.”

Well, Simmons would help change that. And Lions GM Bob Quinn is already a fan. A big fan. 

"That guy’s a playmaker," Quinn said Tuesday at the NFL combine. "He can do a variety of things at a very, very high level. A couple years ago when he wasn’t even (draft) eligible, coming down the stretch of the college season he was probably one of the most dominant guys on that team -- and (Clemson) had a bunch of guys that got drafted last year. So he was on our radar.

"He’s great. He can cover tight ends, he can play sideline to sideline, he’s a very good blitzer. He’s not a big-bodied inside linebacker that’s going to take on blocks, but his athleticism, his range and his ability just to make plays in both the run and pass game is really intriguing. He’s a high-level prospect."

Simmons has the versatility that Patricia craves. On top of linebacker and safety, some even suggest he could play slot corner. He racked up 104 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, eight passes defended and three interceptions last season. That included seven tackles, a sack and two passes defended against Joe Burrow and LSU in the National Championship. 

The Lions have invested heavily in linebackers the past few years, particularly since the arrival of Patricia. But aside from Devon Kennard, their acquisitions haven't panned out.

2017 first-round pick Jarrad Davis and 2018 free-agent signee Christian Jones were two of the worst LB's in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus. And the jury is still out on 2019 second-round pick Jahlani Tavai. 

Not great, for a defense whose linebackers are its linchpin. Maybe Simmons could tie it all together.