2020 NFL Draft | John Simpson, Clemson, and the value of plug-and-play prospects


One of the interesting aspects of the NFL Draft is the way that positional value pushes potential starters into later rounds. The first round is generally flush with quarterback, offensive tackle and EDGE talent, allowing highly ranked prospects at “lesser valued” positions to become available in the second round and so on.

In the 2019 NFL Draft, the third tight end (Irv Smith Jr.) wasn’t selected until the 50th pick, the third safety (Marquise Blair) wasn’t selected until pick No. 47 and the third interior offensive lineman (Elgton Jenkins) wasn’t selected until No. 44. The last one is especially notable, because there are three interior offensive linemen starters per team. That’s a whopping 96 starters throughout the league, but the position isn’t valued nearly as high as others when it comes to draft picks.

Looking at how the 2020 NFL Draft could shake out, only Michigan center Cesar Ruiz is expected to be a first-round option among interior offensive linemen. That’s going to push prospects in the same position group, who have immediate starting potential, possibly outside of the top 100 selections.

Among those future starting interior offensive linemen is Clemson guard John Simpson. After being a part of the rotation during his first two seasons with the Tigers, Simpson took over as a full-time starting left guard in 2018. He would start 29 games over the next two seasons, finishing his collegiate career with over 2,000 snaps and earning consensus All-American honors as a senior. He had a productive week at the Senior Bowl, particularly in run blocking drills, and showed comfort at both guard positions.

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Simpson had an impressive combination of size and athleticism. At 6-4 and 321 pounds with 34 ⅛-inch arms, he has excellent size for an offensive guard. Here were some of his athletic tests at that size, with the corresponding percentile among interior offensive linemen:

5.24s 40-yard dash – 60th percentile

30” vertical jump – 77th percentile

107” broad jump – 80th percentile

34 reps bench press – 91st percentile

With size and requisite explosiveness, Simpson has the natural power and technique to be a road grader on the field. His thickness allows him to take over blocks, physically overpowering defensive lineman when he gets his hands inside of their frame.

Simpson projects well into both zone and gap running schemes, showing enough mobility as a puller to redirect when necessary and bring forceful contact to clear lanes. In zone schemes, he has the strength to drive defensive lineman during combination blocks while having enough quickness to detach and climb to the second level. When it comes to the running game, Simpson has a strong projection into every NFL offensive scheme.

In pass protection, Simpson has a quick reaction time to reset his hands and pad level, sinking his hips and anchoring into the ground. He’ll stall the momentum of rushes and overtake the block, even after shuffling his feet and processing stunts. His experience facing the best defensive fronts and schemes that college football has to offer is an invaluable intangible when entering the NFL.

Simpson can be a bully on the field, dominating for stretches and finishing blocks by putting defenders on the ground. While he’s physically gifted, Simpson will occasionally miss his initial punch in pass protection and lunge to empty space. He’ll need to improve his patience and accuracy in the NFL or it will lead to losing a few clean reps early in his career.

Due to positional preference of draft prospects, Simpson likely won’t be an option for teams drafting in the first round. There’s even a strong possibility that he’s still available outside of the top 50 picks. Regardless of his draft position, he shows the traits of a plug-and-play starter at either guard spot with a relatively clean scouting report and athletic upside. His starter-level traits will make him a value selection no matter the point of the draft that he’s eventually selected.