JACKSONVILLE – Isaiah Simmons makes evaluating this year's draft tricky.
It's not so much that it's hard to know if Simmons is the 2020 NFL Draft's best linebacker as much as it's hard to know if he's a linebacker at all. Or a safety. Or a cornerback. Or a nickel corner. Or even a defensive end. Or …
Whatever Simmons is – and when evaluating the draft, many consider the Clemson University hybrid a linebacker – there's little question he's one of the draft's best prospects.
"If he's a linebacker, he's obviously Linebacker One," CBS NFL Draft analyst Ryan Wilson said of Simmons recently.
Why the "confusion" when it comes to Simmons? Because he played pretty much every position in college except defensive tackle. Asked his position at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in late February, Simmons famously replied: "Defense."
If Simmons is indeed linebacker, he heads the class at a position most analysts don't see as particularly deep in this year's draft. It's also a position not seen as a pressing need for the Jaguars, though they could address depth and special teams there.
Still, because of his versatility and playmaking ability, Simmons has been mocked to the Jaguars by many analysts at No. 9 overall in Round 1.
Simmons is talented enough that NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah considers him an example of a changing NFL landscape, postulating that he may be the latest example of what he calls a "position-less game," with wide receivers playing multiple roles on offense and with hybrid players such as Simmons playing various roles outside traditional defensive concepts.
"He can do anything," Jeremiah said. "Whether you want to list him as a linebacker or safety, I know you plug him into that defensive scheme and week by week you can deploy him in different ways depending on what the strength of your opponent is. That's why he has so much value."
NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks called Simmons "unique" among the year's defensive prospects.
"You just don't see guys that can play inside/outside linebacker, free and strong safety, slot corner – he can do all that," Brooks said. "He's a playmaker. He's athletic. He can run around. He can make plays. The big thing for him is finding a defensive coordinator who knows exactly what do with him when they get him. That sometimes can be hard."
Simmons isn't the only potential impact linebacker in the draft. Patrick Queen of Louisiana State and Kenneth Murray of Oklahoma also are considered likely first-round selections.
"You better have linebackers that can run all day long and cover," Jeremiah said. "Queen and Murray are new-age, middle-of-the-field, sideline-to-sideline guys who are quick. They're similar types in terms of athleticism."
Brooks called Murray a "leader" with "great instincts" who can blitz and cover receivers, calling Queen "an athlete" who "came on like gangbusters" late this past season.
"He's fast and he's physical," Brooks said. "He's still figuring it out, but with his speed he's going to erase a lot of mistakes because he's so athletic and fast."
POSSIBLE FIRST-ROUND LINEBACKERS
Isaiah Simmons, Clemson; Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma; Patrick Queen, Louisiana State; Zack Baun, Wisconsin.
CHANCES JAGUARS TAKE A LINEBACKER IN ROUND 1
JAGUARS AT LINEBACKER
Leon Jacobs (strongside), Joe Schobert (middle), Myles Jack (weak side), Quincy Williams, Dakota Allen, Austin Calitro, Joe Giles-Harris.
It would be a surprise if the Jaguars used one of their two first-round selections on this position, but perhaps they could see the versatile, talented Simmons as simply too much of a generational talent to pass. Barring such a decision, the Jaguars seem set enough at linebacker with the offseason signing of Joe Schobert at middle linebacker allowing them to move Myles Jack to what the team believes is his more natural position of weak-side linebacker. This appears a position the Jaguars could address for depth later in the draft, but it's not likely they select it early. Unless they just like Simmons too much to pass.
Would you take a linebacker ninth overall? Recent history says no but if we're talking about Simmons you would probably race the card with his name to the front of the room. Simmons can do it all and seems destined to be selected before the Jaguars pick. Thankfully, the adroit signing of Schobert to man the middle allows room to find a guy or two they like – though with Jack, Quincy Williams and Leon Jacobs there is talent and experience. We're assuming Jack goes to the weak side, where he is backed up by Williams, and that Jacobs or Cassius Marsh play on the strong side in base. But defense in today's game is primarily played in sub packages, so the club has a good nucleus. Mix in Austin Calitro, who played well last year, and you could see them pass on linebackers until undrafted free agency … unless a run on quarterbacks or offensive tackles cause Simmons to fall unexpectedly. And what are the odds of that?