Yahoo Sports' top 2019 NFL draft prospects, No. 3: Mississippi State DT Jeffery Simmons

Yahoo Sports

Leading up to the 2019 NFL draft, which starts April 25, Yahoo Sports will count down our top 100 overall prospects. We’ll count them down 10 at a time, followed by profiles on our top 30 overall players.

Previous entries: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-61 | 60-51 | 50-41 | 40-31 | 30. Drew Lock | 29. Deandre Baker | 28. Taylor Rapp | 27. Garrett Bradbury | 26. Dexter Lawrence | 25. Jerry Tillery | 24. Josh Jacobs | 23. Christian Wilkins | 22. Cody Ford | 21. Noah Fant | 20. Andre Dillard | 19. Greedy Williams | 18. Dwayne Haskins | 17. Rashan Gary | 16. D.K. Metcalf | 15. Clelin Ferrell | 14. Florida OT Jawaan Taylor | 13. Byron Murphy | 12. Jonah Williams | 11. Devin White | 10. Kyler Murray | 9. Devin Bush Jr. | 8. Montez Sweat | 7. T.J. Hockenson | 6. Ed Oliver | 5. Josh Allen | 4. Brian Burns

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3. Mississippi State DT Jeffery Simmons

6-foot-4, 301 pounds

Key stat: According to Pro Football Focus, Simmons finished his career with 86 total pressures, 12 quarterback hits and 62 hurries.

The skinny: Simmons was a five-star and a top-20 national Rivals recruit who picked the Bulldogs over Alabama – and half the SEC programs – as a 251-pound rush end. He was one of two true freshmen defenders to suit up for Mississippi State in 2016, starting three of the 12 games in which he played as a true freshman after being suspended for the opener vs. South Alabama (see “Downside” section for details of his suspension). Simmons logged 40 tackles (3.5 for loss), two forced fumbles and four pressures in being named to the SEC coaches’ All-Freshman team.

As a sophomore in 2017, Simmons was named first-team All-SEC with 60 tackles (12 for loss), five sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries (one run back 90 yards for a score) and an FBS-best three blocked kicks (including a punt against Louisiana Tech that he ran back for a TD) in 13 starts. In 2018, Simmons was named first-team all-SEC and AP third-team All-American. In 13 games (12 starts), he totaled 63 tackles (and a team-high 17 for loss), two sacks, one forced fumble and four passes defended.

Simmons, who turns 22 in July, declared early for the 2019 NFL draft. He suffered a torn ACL during training and had surgery to repair it on Feb. 19. Did not work out at the NFL scouting combine and was only able to bench press (28 reps) at MSU’s pro day.

Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons (AP Photo)
Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons (AP Photo)

Upside: Explosive, highly athletic interior pass rusher. Would have been a workout star had he not injured his knee. Massive, wide frame with long arms and huge hands. Chiseled physique with room for more mass but no extra ballast currently. Highly athletic – moves like a player 30 pounds lighter. Productive and disruptive vs. SEC competition – career 32.5 tackles for loss, seven career forced fumbles and high tackle totals the past two seasons (over 60 both years) for interior defender. Also tested well in weekly practice battled vs. Day 2 NFL draft prospect Elgton Jenkins.

Blasts off with fiery first step and ability to cross blockers’ faces before they can react – arm-over swim move is especially hard to stop. Explosive off the ball and can work through blocks or around them. Varies his pass rush plans accordingly and can shift from brute power to agile rushing. Utilizes arm length well to keep guards and center at bay – doesn’t give up his chest readily. Very good in the stunt-and-twist game – will be even more highly sought by teams that rely on heavy line movement to generate pressure. Great lateral quickness and footwork. Uses hands to punch at the ball. Almost impossible to defeat with single blocks.

Can ragdoll blockers with great leverage and upper-body strength. Incredibly strong hands and tree trunks for legs to anchor and win with power. Almost impossible to knock to the ground with low center of gravity, excellent contact balance and core strength. Throwback, country-strong player who lives in the weight room – benched 28 reps of 225 pounds at the combine and reportedly has a max bench of 450 pounds and a max squat of 600. Has taken to coaching under two different staffs and diversified his technique and rush options. Can drop into coverage on occasion and doesn’t look unnatural doing it. Three career blocked kicks give clear window to special-teams value.

Has earned praise for his demeanor and behavior since arriving on campus following trouble in high school (see below). Won MSU’s Newsom Award last spring for his work on the field, in the classroom and in the community. A two-time SEC Academic Honor Roll choice with a GPA over 3.0. Highly engaged in the community and appears to have grown up significantly in his three years in college.

Downside: Shortly after signing with the Bulldogs, a video emerged of Simmons hitting a woman repeatedly in a fight while defending a family member, and he was arrested for simple assault. Simmons was found guilty of malicious mischief and pleaded no contest to the simple assault charge, paying a fine as well as the young woman’s medical bills.

Faced a lot of ire from fans who did not want Simmons to be allowed to enroll at the school, which suspended him one game at the start of the 2016 season and had to meet conditional requirements to remain in the program. Was not allowed to attend the combine because of a league bylaw about the arrest for assault. Teams have done in-depth work on Simmons’ character because of this, and drafting him might require ownership approval and for his NFL team to answer questions about Simmons under media scrutiny.

Torn ACL likely will make Simmons a PUP (physically unable to perform) list candidate whose rookie season could be wiped out or at least severely shortened – might not be cleared for contact and full participation until partway through the NFL season. Also reportedly had shoulder surgery following the 2017 season, adding to the list of potential medical concerns.

Not great in pursuit and burst is limited to short areas. Will rise in his stance and play too upright. Guesses too much and freelances a little, leaving gaps exposed. Can still learn how to defeat tandem blocks and avoid getting sucked up into the trash. Pass-rush technique remains a bit unrefined and one-note, but there’s a lot of room for development. Faced more single-blocking reps than you’d expect, given that first-round prospect Montez Sweat also attracted a lot of blocking attention.

Best-suited destination: Simmons has modeled his game after J.J. Watt and could be a similar type of disruptor as either a 4-3 tackle or a 3-4 end. His ACL tear and character concerns have had an effect on his draft stock, complicating his projection. But there are enough teams picking in the top 32 that will sign off on him, knowing that they eventually will land an elite prospect.

Among the teams that could be interested in his services include the Cleveland Browns, New England Patriots, Los Angeles Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams, Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers.

They said it: “A lot of teams want to know, who am I? Is that you for real? Me personally, I knew who I am. I know that wasn’t me. I made a mistake and that’s the first thing I tell them when I get in a room with [NFL teams].”

— Simmons, to NFL Network, on the 2016 incident

Player comp: Fletcher Cox

Expected draft range: First-round pick. Had he not suffered the torn ACL, Simmons might have been a top-10 choice. And without the high school incident, he could have pushed Alabama’s Quinnen Williams and Houston’s Ed Oliver for the top interior player drafted as one of the first players off the board.

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