Lions draft profile: Trenton Simpson, LB, Clemson
A former five-star recruit who made an impact right away for a major program, Simpson is a player who carried some broad appeal for his variety of skills.
Trenton Simpson, LB, Clemson
Simpson turns 22 in June
Arriving as a heralded recruit, Simpson was a star prep player at both linebacker and running back. Clemson used him in a wide variety of roles at the second level of the defense, spotlighting his positional versatility and outstanding athletic potential.
His best season was 2021, a year when he a chess piece who could line up at strong safety, rush LB and MIKE backer all in the same drive. Moved to a more traditional off-ball LB role in 2022, his impact declined a bit. Simpson finished 2022 with 72 total tackles, four TFLs, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles for the Tigers.
Outstanding speed for the position; ran a 4.43 40-yard dash with a 1.55 10-yard split at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine
Major power behind his pads when he hits
Good timing and closing burst as a blitzer
Quick feet, reactions and acceleration in coverage situations, notably in zone coverage with the play in front of him
Positional versatility; has played every LB role in his three years at Clemson and has also dabbled at safety and EDGE
Can turn and run with TEs and RBs in man coverage
Intelligent off the field; graduated in three years and was Academic All-ACC
Poor body control at full speed for as overall fast and explosive as Simpson is athletically; overruns the point of attack consistently on runs outside the tackle box
Can be slow to find the best path to the ballcarrier in the run game
Blocks find him at a higher rate than expected and he doesn’t use his hands well to disengage
Poor awareness of the ball in the air in passing situations
High missed tackle rate; can be a thumper but too often attacks from the side with arm-tackle attempts
Not a natural pass rusher outside of blitzes
Tends to stay too upright when playing in the shallow box, like a marmot on sentry duty, and it slows down his burst and lateral agility
Simpson is a difficult evaluation because his overall game isn’t as good as the sum of his parts. He’s a very smart, hard-working player with outstanding speed and explosive athleticism. Alas, he’s not always able to translate that into being as good at LB as you might think with those attributes. Angles of pursuit, block avoidance and arm tackling are real issues that crop up repeatedly on game film, and those are all difficult things to “coach up”. The more he played in 2022, the more problematic those issues became.
Yet Simpson also flashes really impressive abilities. He’s powerful and explosive in attacking the ball carrier between the tackles. There are many instances where Simpson is very adept in coverage in both man and zone concepts. His 2021 game tape (I watched games vs. Georgia, Louisville, Pitt and Wake Forest) posits Simpson as a guy who looks like an instant starter in the NFL.
Simpson fits as a third or fourth-round off-ball LB with the upside to blow away that projection. He will need a patient coach, an attacking scheme and a defined role early.