The New Defense on Film Part 3: John Simon
We’ve decided to do a series here on BSL examining the film of many of the players that will make up the 2013/14 Ravens defense. Next in the series is the Ravens’ fourth round draft pick, John Simon. We’ve already looked at Arthur Brown and Matt Elam. Join the discussion about John Simon on the Message Board here.
The Ravens took Ohio State DE John Simon with the 129th overall pick in the draft. From a character standpoint, he was among the most highly regarded prospects entering the league. Simon was a two-time captain at OSU and a renowned workout warrior with a relentless motor on the field. I went to the tape to see this by-now-famous motor and also to project where he will fit in with the Ravens for the 2013 season.
First, his measurables. Simon stands 6’2” and weighs 263lbs – about average for a 4-3 DE at the pro level. He may be a bit short compared to some current standout NFL players, and he also gives up about 15 pounds to players like Jason Pierre-Paul. Simon is almost exactly the same size (height and weight) as Suggs, but the key difference (and perhaps one of his greatest detractors) is that Simon’s arms are short compared to Suggs. Simon doesn’t have great “length,” as the scouts would say.
Simon at OSU
Simon played DE at Ohio State, both in the 4-3 and 3-4. He also played some snaps at 4-3 DT, his original position when he first got to OSU. I’ve got to believe that Simon’s versatility (and experience) was one of the key reasons the Ravens went after him.
Dan (BSL_Bryden) and I will talk much more about defensive schemes later in the offseason, but for now I’ll say that the Ravens clearly prize versatility in the front seven, particularly along the defensive line. They will switch between a 4-3 and a 3-4, often playing a 4-3 scheme with 3-4 personnel, and they also like to use a so-called amoeba/psycho front that is… completely nuts.
Simon’s exposure to (and, more importantly, success in) a variety of defensive schemes should make him a great fit in the Ravens organization.
Pass Rushing Strengths
The numbers suggest that Simon was a strong, productive pass rusher in college. He recorded 42 tackles for a loss, including 20.5 sacks in 50 games (of which he started 37).
From the tape I gathered that this was true only some of the time. And, as always, numbers can be misleading.
On the bright side, Simon really does have a relentless motor… he simply never quits on a play. Consequently, he gets a lot of pressure on quarterbacks who hold the ball way too long or try unsuccessfully to scramble when the play breaks down. Below is a great example against none other than Russel Wilson.
In addition, Simon absolutely punishes mediocre players. He attacks relentlessly, and some inferior tackles probably reconsidered football after he was done with them. Below is a great example of this. Simon had a field day against Nebraska in 2012 and recorded four sacks against this poor left tackle.
As you can see, Simon is pretty quick out of his stance. #71 is even in a two-point stance, but Simon blows by before the tackle can get anywhere near him. Simon also shows some decent hands here, chopping at the (futile) block even if he didn’t really need to. In the NFL, though, he will definitely need to, so it’s good to see that he instinctively uses his hands this way.
Finally, he shows that he’s able to get a good angle around the corner. The key to the success of so many pass rushers in the NFL – think Dwight Freeney or James Harrison – is their ability to get low to the ground and turn the corner. See below.
Pass Rushing Weaknesses
I said that Simon’s pass rushing numbers were misleading. You see, he may have had a lot of hits and sacks, but from what I gathered, they came in bunches against vastly inferior talent. For example, Simon’s four sacks against out-matched Nebraska counted for almost half of the nine sacks he recorded in 2012.
(I had a limited number of games available to watch, so I’m basing this on a small sample size. If anyone is a big OSU fan and watched much more of Simon than I have, please chime in and disagree).
Against better opponents, Simon struggled to pressure the quarterback. He doesn’t have great pass rushing moves, relying mostly on speed (and, way too often, an ineffective spin move). Linemen with long arms were able to lock him up at the point of attack, athletic guards easily swallowed him up when he rushed inside, and bigger backs had some success submarining him, too.
The last thing I noticed – and it could be that he corrected this eventually, as it happened more often in 2011 than 2012 – was that Simon sometimes reacted to the man in front of him rather than the ball, causing him to get a really slow jump off the snap. See below for a particularly egregious example.
Against the Run
Simon showed a lot of promise against the run. He is more than strong enough to tackle any running back and will never get bowled over. This is probably part of the reason why everyone believes Simon will be converted to an OLB. He can shed blocks and is a consistent form tackler. Unlike Elam, Simon never relies on just impact to bring the ball carrier down.
Below you can see Simon shed a block and knife inside to make the stop.
In general, Simon showed good vision when defending the run. He seemed to diagnose the play pretty early and was often one of the first people to reach the ball carrier. Unfortunately, there simply weren’t that many highlights available where Simon was defending the run. Most of the games available were against pass-happy spread offenses.
Simon appears to be a solid but not elite prospect. He is freakishly strong and shows some decent pass rushing skills. He appears able to shed blocks and effectively set the edge against the run.
The real question is: where does Simon fit in the NFL? He isn’t quick enough, long enough, or skilled enough to be a pass rushing DE. Most say he will be converted to OLB, but what kind of OLB? If he is the next Jarret Johnson, as people have become fond of saying, that means he will be playing SAM linebacker.
SAM backer is not an easy position. The SAM is asked to do a little bit of everything – set the edge, rush the passer, and drop into coverage (both zones in Cover 2 and Cover 3 and also man coverage against the TE or slot receiver).
Time will tell if Simon can grow into all of these responsibilities. As it stands, I’m not convinced that he’s athletic enough to succeed in coverage, even against TEs. I especially don’t think he has the fluidity or the quickness to turn and run with slot receivers. However, I believe that with his strength, experience, and work ethic he will find himself a spot on the roster.