Brent Venables is the defensive coordinator for Clemson (7-0), but this defense belongs to Isaiah Simmons.
A year ago, the 2018 Tigers were led by one of the greatest defensive lines in modern college football. You know the names. With three first round picks up front — Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence — and Austin Bryant, a fourth round pick, Clemson pushed teams around. Clemson finished the season 15-0 and with the most efficient defense in the country, per ESPN.
Of course, those Tigers had defensive playmakers all over the field, including the freakish Simmons in the secondary. Simmons initially broke out as a redshirt freshman in 2017 — recording a tackle every 6.1 snaps, which led the team. As a full-time safety that season, he also broke up six passes.
Isaiah Simmons was a well-balanced defender for the Tigers last season. pic.twitter.com/vHAw2kDFpL
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 29, 2019
As a sophomore in 2018, though, the 6-foot-4 Simmons emerged as a gifted coverage player from Clemson’s starting nickel/Sam linebacker.
Isaiah Simmons LOCKED DOWN in coverage for Clemson and earned the highest coverage grade among qualified ACC safeties. pic.twitter.com/tmkgLKGF64
— PFF College (@PFF_College) February 21, 2019
Simmons defensed six passes and took an interception back 27 yards for a touchdown in the blowout win over Louisville. He also recorded 88 tackles (5.9 per game), including nine for loss.
Once again, Clemson ranks No. 1 in the FBS in defensive efficiency, and this time it’s Simmons leading the way.
Quick Numbers: Isaiah Simmons
Through the first six games this season, Simmons has 59 total tackles (10 for loss) — tops on Clemson’s roster: 8.4 per game, which ranks sixth in the ACC. Simmons has already collected a team-leading six sacks (No. 5 in the ACC), too.
Over the last 20 seasons of ACC football, going back to 2000, Simmons is one of only five players to record 50+ tackles and five or more sacks through the first seven games, per Sports Reference.
Those numbers are great, obviously, but Simmons is one of those players/prospects that totally meets the eye test, too. Watch Clemson play and it becomes obvious that Simmons — built like an NBA shooting guard with a penchant for lifting too many weights — is special. He flies around the field, dominates in coverage and, when he gets a line on a player, Simmons flashes elite-level closing speed.
As the game continues to get more spread, players like Simmons — who can play in the box or matchup in coverage — become wildly valuable. Again, watch this dude’s closing speed; it’s like he gets shot out of a cannon. He’s built to combat run-pass options and make plays at every level of the field.
Clemson will be a heavy favorite in every game remaining on its regular season schedule, and in the ACC Championship game. If the Tigers are to return to the College Football Playoff, for the fifth straight season, then it will be Simmons powering another dominant defensive unit. After that, get ready to see this guy on Sundays.