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Scouting report: Broncos third-round pick Justin Simmons

Andre Simone Avatar
April 30, 2016

Justin Simmons, FS, Boston College (6-foot-2, 202 pounds)

The Broncos have finished the third day of the draft by taking Boston College safety Justin Simmons with the 98th pick. Simmons is a productive player with great intangibles who was a team leader at Boston College. He’s a versatile player that was used in several different positions and didn’t just play as a free safety but also as corner throughout his career. Simmons has great size at 6-foot-2 and 202.

Here is my brief scouting report on Simmons from our safety preview piece:

“Not the most explosive or athletic, but a smart player with good size who’s no slug either. Simmons has some very good coverage skills and can be trusted in a single high-safety role. His value as a backup with potential to be developed into a starter would make him an intriguing late-round pick. Was one of the leaders on the BC defense that was one of the nation’s best, his tape is very good, doesn’t make many mistakes. He’ll be overlooked due to his athleticism not being elite which limits his explosiveness and the number of flashy plays on tape, but has all the tools to succeed and be a high-level player.”

I’d like to correct part of that report, as Simmons tested off the charts at the combine, especially in his jumps and three-cone drill where he blew people away. He had a 40-inch vertical jump which was best among safeties and was short of only Jalen Ramsey among DBs, that’s elite explosiveness. Simmons had two of his best games against Notre Dame and Clemson the two best offenses he faced this season. He was a leader for one of the nation’s top defenses.

He’s not a big-hitter but rarely misses tackles, can be trusted to make the play in the open field and save some big plays. Might not blow you up but produced two fumbles this year and isn’t afraid to lower his helmet and lay down the wood, good form tackler. He’s been extremely productive, when watching those two games he also flashed a bit more big-play ability than I originally gave him credit for.

He’s almost always in position and rarely makes the wrong decision. Simmons is patient in his reads and might not flash on the tape like some other safeties in the class, but is able to come in and make plays against the run when needed to on the second level. His coverage skills are his most intriguing trait, he’s an extremely instinctive and trustworthy centerfielder who’s flashed great ball skills (see Interception right at the start of the Clemson game), he had five interceptions last season alone.

Simmons really upped his game against his best competition and made lots of plays both against the run and pass. Re-evaluating his tape, statistical production and combine testing numbers, I must admit that I had largely underrated Simmons on my first assessment. He might not be the flashiest but the guy is simply reliable and makes lots of important plays for his defense. He seems like an ideal future starting free safety who fits the mold of not just a center fielder who hides away from the line of scrimmage, but rather a player who can contribute in all facets of the game. He should be able to contribute immediately as an extra nickel or dime defender and could be an important backup to the two injury prone starters at the position.

Simmons lack of mistakes on the field makes it hard to truly find many weaknesses in his game. The biggest knocks on him are that he isn’t an explosive hitter, but he’s certainly reliable, he also isn’t the fastest and “only” ran a 4.6 forty-yard dash in Indianapolis, still above average for this safety class. His lack of speed does mean that his instincts are important and limits some of his recovery speed, but his agility is off the charts and should also help in that respect.

He did have a missed tackle when covering on the outside and that lead to a big play, I’m sure there’re a few more mistakes such as this, but generally, Simmons was one of the most important players on one of the nation’s best defenses. While he did have experience being used as a cornerback especially in his first two collegiate seasons, he’s much better off in the middle of the field or in the slot. His speed, or lack thereof, could be exploited if he’s left outside on the sideline too often. One of his few true limitations on the field.

Simmons was my ninth-ranked player at the position (fifth amongst free safeties) and 97th ranked overall player in the class (which means he was a good value pick even based on my initial assessment of him). He could be an immediate contributor who shows all the potential to be groomed into a future starter. Doesn’t have the flashy statistical production that Rahim Moore had as he arrived from UCLA as a second round pick, but Simmons might just be the prospect who’s able to fulfill Moore’s unreached promise. Often we get enamored with high-end potential and flashy highlight plays, but safety is a position where disciplined, technically sound players who are able to limit mistakes are a much more valuable asset than a flashy safety who is responsible for two blown coverages a game. Might be my favorite pick based on the value of the selection thus far in the Broncos draft.

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