The Las Vegas Raiders are in an interesting predicament when it comes to their linebacker situation. They have a good one in Denzel Perryman, who is coming off a Pro Bowl campaign, but his contract expires at the end of the year and he will be 30 years old in December. That leaves the door open for the Raiders to add a linebacker in this year’s NFL Draft, and Clemson’s Trenton Simpson projects to be one of the top options at the position.
Simpson is currently the top second-level defender on Pro Football Focus’ big board and might be one of the most versatile players in the draft class. Last season, he registered 117 snaps as an EDGE or standup outside backer, 207 in the box, 225 lined up over a slot receiver and 12 as a free safety. Beyond where he lines up or how he’s used, even his skill set is very diverse.
The Clemson product allowed just 157 yards in coverage a year ago and never surrendered more than 36 yards in a single game, with eight outings where he yielded fewer than 10 yards. He also notched a 10.0 percent run stop rate which was inside the top 10 among ACC linebackers, and he ranked second with 31 pressures while rushing the passer on just 26.4 percent of the passing plays he participated in.
The point is Simpson has a lot of traits and qualities that will transfer over to the NFL, and the film clips below shine some light on that.
Trenton Simpson (slot corner here) is physical as hell at the POA pic.twitter.com/BC2bzd3oBh— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) July 15, 2022
One thing that stands out about Simpson’s game against the run is he’s very physical at the point of attack.
In the clip above, he’s going to line up as a slot corner in press coverage against freshman phenom, tight end Brock Bowers, No. 19. Georgia runs duo, putting Bowers against Simpson in a one-on-one base block. The latter takes the fight to the former with great leverage and tight hands on the inside. That helps the defender get extension and get off the block once he reads where the ball is going and it’s almost too easy.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t lead to a tackle for the Clemson product on this rep, but that’s something that will come down the line.
Slant puts Trenton Simpson (ROLB) in a tough spot, but he reads the reach block and wins at the POA to make the tackle pic.twitter.com/2JX6dmNmQj— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) July 15, 2022
Speaking of, here we’ll see a similar rep where Simpson makes his way onto the stat sheet.
In the clip above, he’s lined up as a standup outside linebacker over the two tight ends. Georgia fakes an outside zone with the running back, offensive line and right wide receiver, who’s in a reduced split next to the offensive line. However, they are running a jet sweep to the other side with James Cook – No. 4, originally lined up as the outside receiver – and have the two tight ends block to the outside to set the edge for Cook.
Clemson has a slant called toward the outside zone action, putting the defense in a compromising position with their front going in the direction the offense wants them to go. That lets No. 86 – the inside tight end – get the edge on Simpson, however, Simpson is so physical at the point of attack that he’s able to gain control of the block and avoid getting reached to set the edge. Cook sees that and knows he has to cut it inside.
Simpson also takes on the block with great leverage and tight hands on 86’s chest to be able to disengage from the block and go make the tackle. So, not only did he do his job by forcing the ball carrier inside and into his teammates, but he also gets the extra credit for taking matters into his own hands by making the play.
Trenton Simpson gets a free rush & has the speed to quickly close on the QB, forcing a high throw and securing the W for Clemson pic.twitter.com/gEZr0MTmAM— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) July 15, 2022
Here’s a great example of how Simpson’s speed can be an asset as a pass rusher. The situation is Clemson is up by six with 2:20 to play and they have BC on the ropes with a fourth and long situation. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables – now Oklahoma’s head coach – dials up a cover zero blitz with our subject originally lining up over the inside slot receiver but working towards the line of scrimmage right before the snap.
The coverage is disguised just enough to prevent the offense from potentially making a check and keeping one of the receivers in to block and help the protection scheme. So, the defense has seven rushers to six blockers and the free rusher ends up being Simpson since he’s away from the back and wasn’t an immediate threat on the line scrimmage pre-snap.
He closes on the quarterback so quickly that the quarterback must keep dropping to buy time and throws without being able to set his feet, causing the ball to come out quickly and a little high. The latter forces the receiver to jump to make the catch and limits his ability to get yards after the catch. By the time the wideout’s feet hit the ground, two defensive backs are there to make the fourth down stop.
The offense falls just a yard short of moving the chains so if Simpson were a step slower, who knows, the pass could be more accurate allowing the Eagles to pick up the first and potentially win the game.
Trenton Simpson (RLB) perfectly executes a stunt and dominates the RB to get a sack pic.twitter.com/uTG4TYVmmI— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) July 15, 2022
I know what you’re thinking: “That’s great but how about a pass rush snap where he actually gets blocked?” Well, ask and you shall receive…even though you technically didn’t ask…
The Tigers disguise their blitz pre-snap differently this time by having six defenders lineup on the line of scrimmage to cause confusion and test the offensive line’s and running back’s communication. They also have a line game going on where the two linebackers – Simpson and No. 47 – are going to loop around the two defensive linemen with their hands in the dirt.
Pittsburgh isn’t confused at all though as they pick up the line game and get B.O.B. matchups – big on big or offensive linemen on defensive linemen and back on backer. However, Simpson is able to win at the point of attack against the running back and gain control of the rep so that when Kenny Pickett starts to climb the pocket, he’s able to easily disengage and get the sack.
That’s some excellent speed, power and strength from the sophomore.
Trenton Simpson (not pictured pre-snap) perfectly reads screen and comes downhill for a TFL pic.twitter.com/cvw5IHWRj5— Matt Holder (@MHolder95) July 15, 2022
Unfortunately, the broadcast angle blocks off some of our view, but I wanted to share at least one clip of Simpson in coverage.
He’s lined up over the second slot receiver at the bottom of the picture and Clemson plays right into Florida State’s hand by blitzing the nickel off the edge as the Seminoles run a screen. However, Simpson does an excellent job of recognizing it and using his speed to defeat the receiver’s block. Trust me, he doesn’t win on this rep, let alone this quickly, without having some impressive instincts to anticipate the screen.
From there, he does an excellent job of wrapping up and holding onto the receiver’s leg for dear life to get a tackle for loss and force a punt.
Play speed is defined as a player’s ability to mentally process what’s going on, on the field while also having the physical tools to execute their assignment, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing come to light in this clip.