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2021 NFL Draft Profile: Michigan State Linebacker Antjuan Simmons

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Michigan State v Michigan Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland begins tomorrow, Thursday April 29, and runs through Saturday, May 1. The Michigan State Spartans have had at least one player selected in each of the past 80 NFL Drafts, and hope to keep that streak alive this year with three draft hopefuls — cornerback Shakur Brown, defensive tackle Naquan Jones and linebacker Antjuan Simmons. We have previously discussed both Brown and Jones’ draft profiles, and will now highlight what Simmons brings to the table below.

Simmons was an ultra-productive college linebacker, but his lack of size could affect his chances of being drafted by an NFL team. Either way, with his incredible work ethic, expect Simmons to catch on with a professional team either through the draft or as an undrafted free agent.

Profile:

Name: Antjuan Simmons
Position: Linebacker
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 218 pounds
Draft Projection: Sixth or seventh round, or priority undrafted free agent


Pro Day Measurables:

40-yard dash: 4.83 seconds
Bench press (225 pounds): 15 reps
Vertical jump: 32 inches
Broad jump: 9-feet-4-inches
Three-cone drill: 7.30 seconds
20-yard shuttle: 4.28 seconds

Kent Lee Platte, www.relativeathleticscores.com

Similarly to both Brown and Jones, Simmons’ pro day metrics leave a lot to be desired. He scored just a 1.69 RAS (Relative Athletic Score), according to Kent Lee Platte, which places him near the bottom of the 2021 linebackers group. As a quick refresher, RAS grades each player’s pro day metrics on a zero-to-10 scale compared to their peer group.

One of the biggest obstacles for Simmons is his size at under 6-feet tall, and just 218 pounds, which grades out as “very poor” compared to other linebackers in the class. Most NFL scouts are going to want bigger players at linebacker at the professional level. With that said, there have been some smaller linebackers who have had strong NFL careers — Telvin Smith (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) was a second-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection in 2017 for the Jacksonville Jaguars (go Jags!). Lavonte David of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-foot-1, 233 pounds) is a multi-time All-Pro selection, and Mark Barron (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) began his career as a safety before moving to linebacker and finding success there with multiple NFL teams. Matt Milano (6-foot-even, 223 pounds) has had a very successful career thus far with the Buffalo Bills. Certainly, smaller linebackers can find a role in the NFL, and Simmons has the work ethic and football IQ to earn a roster spot.

Unfortunately, Simmons also tested poorly in the speed (4.83-second 40-yard dash) and explosion categories (32-inch vertical, 9-foot-4-inch broad jump). He tested “OK” in the agility drills (7.3-second three-cone drill and 4.28-second shuttle) according to his RAS.

But, testing in workouts is a lot different than playing on the field. Simmons is a gamer, who will outwork and outsmart opponents. He has a knack for finding the football and making plays, and he has incredible leadership, maturity, and is a top-notch teammate.

He also knows he has a chip on his shoulder, and has something to prove. Unlike Brown and Jones, Simmons did not receive an official invite to the NFL Combine. Following Michigan State’s pro day on March 24, I asked Antjuan if he felt slighted by that. Here is what he had to say:

“I mean, yeah, of course (I took it as a slight),” Simmons said. “After my last few seasons, I definitely felt like I was one of the best out there. But you know, they pick the guys, and I’m not in charge of anything. My job is to show up and perform. I can’t complain or get too down about it, but it definitely gave a little extra motivation, definitely showed I just got to keep working. Just stay in the fight, keep doing what I do.”


Statistics and Accolades

Via MSUSpartans.com:

Games Played: 46 games played (20 starts)
Total Tackles: 231
Tackles For Loss: 26
Sacks: 4.5
Interceptions: Two
Passes Defended: Five
Forced Fumbles: One
Fumble Recoveries: Three

  • Second-team All-Big Ten selection by the Big Ten media, Associated Press, Pro Football Focus and Phil Steele in 2020
  • Third-team All-Big-Ten selection by Big Ten coaches
  • Honorable mention All-Big Ten selection from both Big Ten coaches and media in 2019
  • Invited to 2021 East-West Shrine Game
  • Invited to 2021 NFLPA Collegiate All-Star Game
  • Ranks 26th in Michigan State program history with 26 tackles for loss
  • Team captain
  • Four-year letterwinner (2017-2020)

Overview:

Simmons has a shot to be a late-round draft pick, probably sixth or seventh round at the earliest, but perhaps even more likely, he’ll get signed as an undrafted free agent. He had a highly-decorated college career, earning All-Big Ten honors in both 2019 and 2020, and leaving the Michigan State program 26th all-time in tackles for loss and 44th all-time in total tackles. In addition to his on-field abilities, he was also revered by his coaches and teammates for his leadership.

All of that said, Simmons’ lack of size and consistency has hurt his draft stock. Simmons is a tough player, and often played through injuries in college, but his durability at the next level may come into question. I don’t personally see that as an issue, as he never missed a game at Michigan State and started 20 consecutive games in 2019 and 2020 combined, although there were certain games where he had to leave the field for extended periods of time. As a true freshman, Simmons fractured a vertebra in the 2017 Holiday Bowl, but he did appear in all 13 games that year, and after a long recovery in the offseason, Simmons also played in all 13 games in 2018 and then again in 2019. He appeared in all seven games in the shortened 2020 season as well.

Simmons’ best hope to start his NFL career is to earn a special teams role with a franchise, add weight and strength, and eventually try to work his way into the defensive lineup. He projects best as an outside linebacker, most likely a WILL (weak-side linebacker), in a 4-3 scheme. Although he was a highly-productive tackler, NFL scouts want to see him improve his tackling technique and consistency there.

Simmons knows he’s been overlooked somewhat during the draft process, but he knows exactly what he can bring to the table for an NFL team. Speaking to the media after his pro day in March, Simmons said his work ethic, leadership, effort level and other intangible traits help him stand out.

“Definitely gonna get a hard-working guy, positive attitude, a leader,” Simmons said about what an NFL team would get from him. “I’m gonna show up and do everything right, do whatever’s needed to better the team. Whatever it takes, I’m gonna get the job done. You’re gonna get a heck of a football player. I’m gonna give it 110 (percent) in practice, I’m gonna give it 110 (percent) on game days, that’s just the type of guy I am. I wanna be the best, I wanna win...that’s the attitude I’m trying to bring.”

Whether he gets drafted or not, I certainly wouldn’t count Simmons out, and would not be at all surprised to see him eventually make an active NFL roster.


What scouts and analysts are saying about Simmons:

“Michigan State linebacker Antjuan Simmons enters the 2021 NFL Draft process hoping to sell a team on the complementary roles he can fill on an active roster. Simmons is a slasher-style backer who makes most of his splash plays triggering into the line of scrimmage and attempting to shoot gaps. He’s not a high-impact player in pass coverage, but his ability to navigate traffic and subsequently shuck blockers in close combat offers a glimpse into a special teams role that could serve him well in the pros. Simmons has adequate extension skills and some nice pop through his hands and pads, allowing him to jolt bigger, heavier blockers and create a crease for him to attack. Some of his thud fills (Northwestern 2020) offer enough leverage to completely clear out the gap. Simmons will need to clean up his tackling skills in order to commandeer such a role, however—there were too many poor angles in pursuit to the football that left him attacking the inside hip but ultimately either scraping too flat over the top to allow for cutbacks or attacking too direct to fall behind his landmarks as a tackler. If Simmons can become more consistent in one-on-one opportunities here, he’ll have a role to play at the next level. But while his raw tackle production was near the top in the Big Ten last season, there’s needed improvement from a consistency standpoint.” - the Draft Network’s Kyle Crabbs

“Simmons had a great year at linebacker. No. 34 was everywhere making plays. You can say that was their best defensive player, their most impressive player on tape was Simmons – in coverage and around the line of scrimmage, always getting through the traffic, staying on his feet, read and reaction, diagnostic ability excellent for him. He was an overachiever, he’s a heck of a player. In the late rounds, priority free agent, I think he’s going to have a chance to force his way onto a football team.”- ESPN’s Mel Kiper (via MLive)

Positives: Safety-sized linebacker who makes plays in every area of the field. Athletic, gets tremendous depth on pass drops. and covers a lot of area on the field. Explosive, fierce, and flies around the action working to make positive plays. Quickly gets outside the numbers in pursuit, fluidly flips his hips, and plays heads-up football. Breaks down well, fires up the field defending the run, and gives effort.

Negatives: Undersized, gets easily blocked from the action, and gets caught up in the trash. Lacks growth potential.

Analysis: Simmons was a tremendous college linebacker and a productive player at Michigan State for three seasons. Size is a limiting factor, and Simmons only fits a few schemes, but he offers potential as a one-gap defender and special teams player.
- Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline

“Simmons racked up an impressive 231 tackles for the Spartans. He has some pop behind his pads at the point of attack, holding his own if he takes on blockers. When seeing blockers coming, he displays quick hands to knock down their punch and keeps his frame clean. Simmons is more capable in man than zone as he deals with tight ends and running backs using his physicality. Slow play speed limits Simmons’ ability to make plays as he does not cover a lot of space, showing little range at the second level. He is unable to gain depth without turning his back to the passer in zone. Slow processing causes him to guess, which he often does wrong, taking multiple steps in the wrong direction. A low tackler, he misses in space due to stiff hips and being unable to adjust to ball-carriers changing directions. Simmons projects as a potential camp invite at the next level, but will have a tough time making a roster considering little special-teams upside because of a lack of size, athleticism and tackling ability..” - Sports Illustrated/Fan Nation’s NFL Draft Bible.


Highlights: