NFL Draft Notebook: Scouting Clemson linebacker Trent Simpson

Trenton Simpson could crush the NFL Scouting Combine. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Trenton Simpson could crush the NFL Scouting Combine. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /

This week’s NFL Draft Notebook takes a look at Clemson linebacker Trent Simpson, who in addition to being one of the best athletes in the 2023 NFL Draft is a first-round caliber linebacker. In addition to taking a look at Simpson this week’s article also highlights several outstanding performances from draft prospects, a rookie wide receiver who is finally starting to shine, and much more.

2023 NFL Draft Prospect of the Week

When watching Clemson linebacker Trenton Simpson three adjectives come to mind which are tall, fast, and athletic. This combination along with his on-field production make him one of the top outside linebackers in the 2023 NFL Draft. It is also why some team will select Simpson late in the first round come April.

Coming out of Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte, Simpson was a highly sought-after recruit. As a senior in high school, he finished the year with 20 sacks, which is even more impressive when you realize he only played linebacker for two years in high school. His impressive measurables and production are the main reason he attracted attention from schools like Clemson, Auburn, and Georgia.

While Simpson initially committed to Auburn, he changed his mind and ended up going to Clemson. One of the reasons for this switch was his relationship with defensive coordinator Brent Venables. As a true freshman, he saw limited playing time but was still able to come away with 32 tackles on the season.

As a sophomore Simpson continued to impress on the field. He finished the year with 78 tackles which ranked third on the team and also had 12 tackles for loss and six sacks. He has continued to play at a high level this year as well, despite seeing a dip in sacks and tackles for loss.

The first trait that stands out about Simpson is his impressive athletic ability. This season he was listed as Bruce Feldman’s number 29 freak athlete, and when looking at his testing numbers it is easy to see why he made this list. According to Clemson coaches, he runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.3 range and also posts a 375-pound bench press while only having 6% body fat.

This athletic ability shows up on the field as well. In coverage it allows him to match up well against tight ends or running backs he will be asked to cover. His quickness allows him to be a feared pass rusher as well. He can beat offensive tackles off the ball and with his flexibility he has the skills needed to turn the corner and come up with a game-changing sack.

While Simpson’s speed and athletic ability show up on the field his strength in the weight room does not. His biggest deficiency as a player is in the run game. In this area, he struggles taking on blockers and holding his own against the run. Improving his overall functional strength as well as better hand use should allow him to improve his game vs. the run.

When it comes to where Simpson will fit in the NFL, he will likely be looked at as a WILL linebacker. This will likely be his best fit since he can use his speed and coverage skills to shut down opposing tight ends. It will also allow him to shift outside the box consistently where run support is not as big of a priority.

NFL Draft Prospects: Top Ten Performances of Week Nine

1.  Zach Charbonnet, RB, UCLA
The most impressive from week nine came from UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet. The physical running back was a one-man show against Stanford. The physical runner accounted for 198 rushing yards and three touchdowns. He also led the team in receiving yards hauling in five passes for 61 yards.

2. Viliami Fehoko, DE, San Jose State
While it would be a mistake for San Jose State junior defensive end Viliami Fehoko to enter the draft, he is putting up strong numbers this season. In his latest games, he came with 12 tackles and three sacks, which now gives him six sacks on the season. When watching his film this week against Nevada it is easy to see why he was named midseason Moutain West defensive player of the year by The Athletic.

3. Antoine Green, WR, North Carolina
North Carolina has one of the best passing games in college football, and wide receiver Antoine Green is one of the big reasons why. He has been a big play threat ever since coming back from injury which cost him the first three games of the season. His latest game against Pittsburgh was his best game of the year, catching 10 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns.

4. Sydney Brown, S, Illinois
Illinois safety Sydney Brown had an outstanding overall game against Nebraska this week. He was a force vs. the run accounting for six tackles and showing the aggression scouts want to see from a strong safety. He also made several plays in the passing game recording two interceptions on the day. His overall outstanding game and strong play all season led Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema to compare him to former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders.

5. Rashee Rice, WR, SMU
The best opening play by any player in college football had to be from SMU wide receiver Rashee Rice, who caught a 75-yard touchdown pass. In this play, he broke several tackles and outraced several defenders to the end zone. Overall, on the day he caught nine passes for 180 with two touchdowns, and if starting quarterback Preston Stone had not gotten injured his numbers would have even been better.

6. Parker Washington, WR, Penn State
When watching Penn State wide receiver Parker Washington it was hard not to get Cooper Kupp vibes. Like Kupp, Washington showed terrific hands and the ability to catch the ball in traffic. He was by far Penn State’s best player of the day against Ohio State catching 11 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns.

7. Theo Day, QB, UNI
After starting off the season slowly UNI quarterback Theo Day has had a strong last couple of games. In his latest game against Southern Illinois, he threw for 330 yards and five touchdowns while completing 84% of his passes. The junior signal caller is someone NFL Draft fans should keep an eye on for the 2024 NFL Draft.

8. Jonah Tavai, DT, San Diego State
Despite being on the smaller side San Diego State defensive tackle Jonah Tavai is a player to watch. In his latest game against Fresno State, he came away with six tackles and 2.5 sacks. He is a player who will likely go undrafted but could impress in a training camp and end up making a roster.

9. Jake Moody, K, Michigan
One issue Michigan has had this season is settling for field goals instead of punching it in the end zone. Thankfully for the Wolverines, they have the reigning Lou Groza Award winner Jake Moody kicking field goals for them. Last Saturday, Moody connected on all five of his field goals including a career-high kick of 54 yards.

10. Bo Nix, QB, Oregon
A player who is consistently finding his name on this list is Oregon’s quarterback Bo Nix, and this week is no different. This week against California he threw for 412 yards and three touchdowns while also running for three more scores. With his strong performance this season it would not be a surprise if Nix sneaks into the late first or early second-round area of the 2023 NFL Draft.

Rookie of the Week

Despite suffering a loss to the New England Patriots this week’s rookie of the week is New York Jets wide receiver, Garrett Wilson. Against the Patriots he hauled in six passes for a career-high 115 yards. He also showed several skills that make him an exciting playmaker and someone who should be able to be a focal point of the Jets’ passing games.

Going into this game Wilson had not lived up to the type of production a team would want out of the 10th pick in the NFL Draft. In his previous three games, he had been held to under 30 yards receiving in each contest. However, in this game, he looked like he could develop into a true difference-maker.

Wilson’s best play of the game came in the first quarter when he hauled in a 54-yard reception from Zach Wilson. On this play, he displayed the speed to get behind the defense and also the contact balance to pick up several yards after the catch.

He also displayed the ability to pick up yards after the catch on several other occasions in this game. One other example of this is when he took a Jet Sweep at the start of the second quarter which he picked up 18 yards on. One other play that stood out of his in this game came in the fourth quarter when he came away with a reception in traffic which resulted in a first down.

It will be interesting to see if Wilson is able to contribute at a high level the next couple of weeks since the team he will be playing one of the tougher teams in the NFL next week the Buffalo Bills which is followed up with a rematch against the New England Patriots.

NFL Draft Scouting Notes

— While we saw several prospects’ stock rise last week, one player whose stock is falling is Kentucky quarterback Will Levis. He struggled and had one of his worst games in college against Tennessee. Against the Vols, he threw for only 98 yards while tossing three picks. In addition to his poor stats, he also showed some traits that will concern scouts including throwing into coverage, taking a while to go through his reads, and even looking confused at times. These concerns will likely cause Levis to slide into the second day of the 2023 NFL Draft.

— Virginia Tech wide receiver Kaleb Smith has now had two stellar performances in his last three games. On October 8th against he hauled in nine passes for 152 yards vs. Pittsburgh, and this past weekend he caused three passes for 141 yards. His highlight of the day against North Carolina State came in the third quarter when he hauled in an 85-yard touchdown reception. While Smith currently grades as an undrafted free agent, if he can keep producing at a high level he could start to get consideration in the sixth or seventh round area of the 2023 NFL Draft.

— Last week, the New York Giants traded former first-round pick, Kadarius Toney, to the Kansas City Chiefs. This trade makes adding a wide receiver an even bigger need in the 2023 NFL Draft. The Giants will likely look to add a more physical receiver to team with 2022 2nd-round pick Wan’Dale Robinson. A first-round prospect the team could look at is Quentin Johnston who has had a great season for TCU this season. If the team decided to wait until day two of the NFL Draft, where they will have three picks, a player like Cedric Tillman of Tennessee would make sense.

— Ohio State’s Cameron Brown is one of the more interesting late-round prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft. When healthy Brown is a physical confident corner who is not afraid to challenge receivers. He shows the athletic ability to attract scouts’ attention as well, showing the quickness to break on the ball and swift hips for a bigger corner. The big concern with him though is his injury history. He has already missed several games this year and had season-ending injuries in both 2018 and 2020.

— Stanford’s Joshua Karty is a kicker to watch for the 2023 NFL Draft. The junior has made 100% of his kicks this season going 14 for 14. This includes going 10 for 10 on kicks over 40 yards. In addition to hitting on all of his field goals, he has also nailed all of his extra points and also kickoffs for the Cardinals. Look for teams to give Karty a serious look on day three of the NFL Draft if he decides to declare early.

Quote of the Week

“Theo Day is the real deal.”

-UNI head coach Mark Farley on quarterback Theo Day