NFL draft: Former Clemson defender selected in first round by Cardinals

NFL draft: Former Clemson defender selected in first round by Cardinals

by - Staff Writer -

The self-described 'Swiss Army Knife' of the Clemson defense found out his pro destination in Thursday's NFL draft first round.

Isaiah Simmons is headed to Arizona Cardinals after being selected with the 8th overall pick.

"Wow. Excited, very excited," Cardinals GM Steve Keim said of landing Simmons. "This is one of the most unique players I've ever evaluated. The size, the length, the athleticism, the coverability in space...There's very little this guy can't do. We vowed to fix this defense and make sure we get playmakers who can cover ground and guys who can run.

"To me, to be able to add a player like this guys' capabilities is very exciting for us."

NFL draft analysts have been firmly in Simmons' corner all the way.

"He can do so many different things. One week he may be lined up and covering (49ers TE) George Kittle," NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah said. "Another they might use him as a spy on (Seahawks QB) Russell Wilson. You can blitz him from off the edge and you can even play him deep-middle third. This guy can do so many things for a creative coordinator. He's an outstanding prospect."

Simmons was regarded as the top prospect overall by an ESPN ranking last week, ahead of No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow among more. He was rated as the No. 1 outside linebacker by the network.

The eighth pick is projected a $20.66 million contract with a $12.58 million signing bonus per Spotrac.

He joins new Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins among Clemson products. Former Tiger defender Brentson Buckner coaches D-line for Arizona now.

The Olathe, Kansas native earned the Butkus Award, as the nation’s top linebacker, after leading the Tigers in tackles (107), tackles for loss (16), QB pressures (15), pass breakups (10) and sacks (8).

Simmons made his mark as the most versatile player in college football last season, logging over 100 snaps as an inside linebacker (299), slot corner (262), free safety (132), outside linebacker (116) and strong safety (100) per Pro Football Focus.

"I look for Isaiah Simmons to line up in the front-seven at outside linebacker and a little bit of inside linebacker," ESPN's Booger McFarland said. "He's going to blitz and he's going to come downhill. They're going to put him in a position where he can affect the football game every single down."

He started 29 of his 44 games as a Tiger, logging 253 stops (28.5 for loss), 22 pass breakups, 10.5 sacks, five forced fumbles and four interceptions in 1,856 snaps.

Simmons notes (via Clemson)

Became the 58th player to have played for Head Coach Dabo Swinney to be drafted into the NFL, including the 12th first-round pick of Swinney’s tenure.

Represents Clemson’s 33rd first-round pick in the NFL Draft all-time, dating back to Banks McFadden’s selection by the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers with the fourth overall pick in the 1940 NFL Draft.

Became the 15th Clemson player selected by the Cardinals all-time, the third-most of any franchise. He is the Cardinals’ first selection from Clemson since running back Andre Ellington in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Surpasses Harold Olson (No. 13 overall in 1960) as the highest pick from Clemson in Cardinals history. Simmons became the first first-round pick from Clemson in Cardinals history, as the 1960 NFL Draft featuring Olson only featured 12 teams.

Joined Vic Beasley (2015) as the only No. 8 overall selections in Clemson history. Simmons is now tied with Beasley for the ninth-highest selection in Clemson.

Became Clemson’s 12th Top 10 pick all-time and, including the No. 4 overall pick of Clelin Ferrell last year, gave Clemson back-to-back drafts with a Top 10 selection for the third time in Clemson history (1982-83 with Jeff Bryant and Terry Kinard; Sammy Watkins and Vic Beasley in 2014-15).

Became the first Clemson linebacker selected in the first round since Stephone Anthony in 2015 (No. 31 by the New Orleans Saints). Ironically, now three of Clemson’s four linebackers (excluding edge-rusher DE/LB hybrids like Vic Beasley) selected in the first round all-time have had the surname Simmons, including Wayne Simmons in 1993 and Anthony Simmons in 1998.

His selection marks the third straight draft in which a defensive player was the first Clemson player selected. The last offensive player to be the first Clemson player selected in a draft was wide receiver Mike Williams (No. 7 overall in 2017).

Prior to Simmons’ selection Thursday, the most recent Clemson linebacker selected was Dorian O’Daniel in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft. O’Daniel was one of three Clemson players on Kansas City’s 46-man active roster in Super Bowl LIV this past February.

Selected by a coaching staff that includes Arizona Defensive Line Coach Brentson Buckner, a Clemson Athletic Hall of Famer who was an All-ACC selection in both 1992 and 1993. A year ago, Buckner was on the Raiders’ staff that selected Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell with the No. 4 overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Will play home games at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., the site of Clemson’s 29-23 victory against Ohio State in the College Football Playoff National Semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl in which Simmons recorded an interception.

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