From now until the 2023 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents Today, I’ll be profiling Clemson LB Trenton Simpson
#22 Trenton Simpson, LB, Clemson (Junior) – 6030, 235lb
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Trenton Simpson||6’3, 235lb||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Has a chiseled frame with notable muscle mass and broad shoulders
— Athleticism pops on film, having immediate speed and explosiveness
— Plays with relentless effort in pursuit of the football as a run defender and pass rusher
— Does a great job closing space quickly as a sideline-to-sideline defender as well on backside pursuit
— Versatile chess piece that has played in the box, as the nickel/overhang defender, and on the edge
— Does a good job working through trash in the box to get to the ball
— Can work off blocks and has the strength to stack and shed
— Physical defender that is excited for contact, running through blocks regularly
— Ideal defender to spy athletic QBs given his speed and pursuit
— Can split out and cover tight ends and running games in coverage
— Does well covering space in zone and can run in-stride with receivers in man
— Can check pass catchers at the LOS to throw them off their route
— Capable pass rusher that can work around the corner or counter inside across the tackle’s face as an edge rusher
— Mindful of not losing outside contain when lined up on the edge
— Effective at twists and stunts, using his speed to get into the backfield
— Contributed immediately as a true freshman and is still scratching the surface of his raw talent
— Son of a former military sergeant, being a first-class student and teammate
— Could use some more weight to fill out his lean frame at the next level
— Played in the box some, but mostly operated as an overhang/edge defender for the Tigers
— Role as a three-down off-ball LB a bit of a projection, being more of a hybrid player
— Instincts in the box need work with more reps, evading blocks and trash
— Lacks refined hand usage as a pass rusher
— Can be more consistent getting ballcarriers to the ground as a wrap up tackler
— Made plenty of plays near the LOS, but could stand for more splash in coverage
— Junior Prospect from Charlotte, NC
— Born June 14, 2001 (age 21)
— Son of Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy D. Simpson, who served 17 overseas tours from 1994-21 in his decorated career with the U.S. Army Rangers
— Played both running back and linebacker in high school, logged 20 sacks his senior season
— Won the Arnold R. Solomon Award for the North Carolina High School Football Player of the Year in 2019
— Selected to Under Armour All-America Game as a five-star LB recruit
— Enrolled at Clemson early in spring of 2020
— Was credited with 32 tackles (6.5 for loss), 4.0 sacks and a forced fumble in 271 snaps over 12 games (three starts) as a true freshman
— Posted 78 tackles 12.0 TFLs, six sacks, and three pass breakups over 556 snaps in 13 games (12 starts) in 2021
— Racked up 77 tackles (4.0 for loss), 2.5 sacks, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles in 616 defensive snaps over 12 games (all starts)
— Missed the Orange Bowl game due to an ankle injury
— Two-time ACC Honor Roll selection (2020-21), All-ACC Academic Team (2021)
— Earned degree in sports communication in December 2022
— Third-team All-ACC (2022), Team Captain (2022)
Trenton Simpson is this year’s athletic phenom at the linebacker position. Having the body of a Greek god, Simpson is chiseled from head to toe with a slim waist and broad shoulders, having the frame to match his athleticism. His speed and acceleration in the field are evident when you turn on the tape, having the closing burst to hunt down the ball carrier as if the rest of the field is in slow motion. Simpson made quite the impact during his time at Clemson, being credited with 187 tackles (22.5 for loss), 12.5 sacks, six pass breakups, and three forced fumbles in 1,443 snaps over 37 games (27 starts) from 2020-22.
When watching Simpson on tape, hybrid is the term that comes to mind as he was literally everywhere on film. The defense changed in 2022 after former DC Brent Venables left for Oklahoma, likely resulting in a slight dip in production for Simpson this past season. His versatility and ability to change personnel peaked in 2021 as Simpson would take snaps from deep safety, on the edge as a pass rusher, in the nickel, and coming downhill as a WILL linebacker.
Originally a LB recruit coming out of high school, Simpson posted a gaudy 20 sacks his senior season before enrolling at Clemson, that knack as a pass rusher followed him to college, posting 12.5 sacks in three seasons. Simpson is well-utilized on twists and stunts from the box but also plays a fair amount on the edge as well, working against the OT to rush the QB. Here is one example against North Carolina where he gets off the block by the RT and gets on his horse to chase down QB Drake Maye scrambling from the pocket, bringing him down in the backfield.
Not only can Simpson rush the passer from the edge, but he can also play solid run defense and keep outside contain. Watch this play where Simpson rushes as the overhang defender at the top of your screen, keeping his outside leg and arm free and disengaging the block as Maye escapes the pocket. He chases him down at the LOS and brings him down for a short gain.
Simpson’s effort in pursuit is top-notch, having the relentless pursuit of the ballcarrier you want to see in a potential three-down linebacker. Watch this play against South Carolina where Simpson chases down the running back as the backside defender, flattening his angle to the ball and taking him down just beyond the LOS for a short gain. The second clip shows a similar outcome of Simpson blowing up the RPO give in the backfield for a big TFL, triggering downfield in a hurry after the snap.
Here is another example of Simpson’s athleticism on display as he goes from being head-up on the center pre-snap to flying out to the sideline post-snap on the quick out route to the TE, closing ground with ease to get to the ball quickly. Simpson shoulder-checks the receiver rather than wrapping him up, an issue in his tape that he needs to work on, but he is able to get back up and rally to the ball with the rest of the defense.
Simpson played more as a stacked LB this season and showed the capability to make plays as an off-ball defender. Watch this clip of him working laterally down the LOS, keeping his shoulders square to the ball to get into the gap and make the tackle. He had mixed results staying clean and working off blocks, but Simpson has the movement skills and upper body strength to deconstruct blocks in pursuit of the football.
As shown above, Trenton Simpson has been used in coverage a fair amount as an overhang/nickel defender. He also can cover from the box as well as you can see from this clip, picking up the receiver coming across the formation as the pressure closes in on the passer, preventing him from throwing the ball away which leads to the sack.
Simpson does need work in terms of processing quicker from the ILB spot, but that will come with more reps playing in one spot rather than playing all over the defense. His instincts are noticeable on tape given all the hats he had to wear for the Tigers this past season, flashing as a run defender, pass rusher, and coverage defender. Watch this play as he rushes the passer against the Tar Heels but is mindful to get his hands up in the passing lane, knocking down the pass on second down, forcing third-and-long.
Overall, Trenton Simpson is a player that will receive some scrutiny due to his “lack of position” in college as a hybrid defender, but it’s hard not to like the total package being presented. He is an athletic specimen at the position, having the capability to play passing downs both as a coverage defender,pass-rusher or even as a QB spy.
His pursuit of the football is top-notch, closing ground quickly in space on the running back or the QB. He will need to adjust to playing more in the box and consistently work around blocks, but Simpson has the qualities you can’t teach at the position, showcasing the skills to suggest that he can fulfill the role of a three-down linebacker while still contributing as a Swiss Army Knife defender.
When watching Simpson play, I can’t help but get flashbacks to current Cleveland Browns LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah coming out of Notre Dame. JOK was also characterized as a hybrid defender that lacked a true position at the college level, splitting time at linebacker, nickel, and as a pass-rusher. Still, his impact was notable in these roles, making impact hits on the ballcarrier while having the capability to rush the passer and drop into coverage. JOK got drafted in the second round due to size concerns, scheme fit, and due to a lingering injury that hurt his medicals. He now plays for the Cleveland Browns, providing them with a dynamic playmaker at the second level of the defense.
I foresee a similar role for Simpson in the league, having a more filled-out frame and less injury concerns than JOK coming out. The Pittsburgh Steelers have lacked speed and playmaking ability at the LB spot since losing Ryan Shazier back in 2017 and have an apparent need at the position with Devin Bush and Robert Spillane slated to hit free agency.
While ILB may not be the most-valued position in the draft, Simpson would provide Pittsburgh with an injection of youth, athleticism, and splash play ability that the defense desperately needs. Given his pedigree, athletic profile, his status as an underclassman, and his background with his father being former military, I expect the Steelers to heavily consider Simpson with one of their first two picks this coming April.
Projection: Day One/Early Day Two
Depot Draft Grade: 8.7 –Year 1 Quality Starter (1st Round)
Games Watched: at Notre Dame (2022), Vs North Carolina (2022) at South Carolina (2021)