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No Combine, No Problem for Jeffery Simmons

By Dave Holcomb
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Simmons’ absence at the NFL scouting combine means absolutely nothing. Teams who consider Simmons this draft’s best insider pass rusher are going to take the risk and select him.

More than four years removed from the Ray Rice video incident, the NFL has done its best to move beyond its ugly past and help bring attention to domestic violence and sexual assault.

How far the league has come since that fateful September day will be tested again this spring with defensive tackle prospect Jeffery Simmons.

In 2016, video caught Simmons hitting a woman, but fortunately for him, Mississippi State didn’t care all that much, as the Bulldogs suspended him for a mere one game. He went on to have a very successful college football career, and now he heads into the NFL draft with the same black mark as Joe Mixon and Tyreek Hill before him.

Last Thursday, CBS Sports reported, Simmons won’t receive an invite to the NFL scouting combine, which is standard procedure in the “more liberal” NFL. Mixon and Hill also didn’t receive an invite to the combine.

"It is important for us to remain strongly committed to league values as we demonstrate to our fans, future players, coaches, general managers, and others who support our game that character matters," NFL Football Operations Executive Vice President Troy Vincent said in a memo to NFL teams.

But don’t let the formality fool you because it’s very likely Simmons will be a high draft pick this spring.

As much progress the NFL has achieved at bringing awareness to domestic violence issues, there’s still one thing that’s more important than everything else -- winning. Let me be perfectly clear, I’m not arguing that’s the way it should be, but rather it’s obviously the way teams conduct business.

If teams can win without the player with a violent past, sure, NFL organizations are willing to cut ties with the man. But if he’s essential to winning, then he usually undeservingly earns a second chance.

There are countless examples, but the best current one is the Kansas City Chiefs. Hours after the release of the video with running back Kareem Hunt kicking a woman on the floor, the Chiefs waived Hunt. Some viewed that decision as a powerful stand against domestic violence, as the Chiefs parted ways with an All-Pro caliber running back.

Yet, Kansas City is the same organization who drafted Hill three years ago, a wide receiver who was dismissed from Oklahoma State for domestic violence charges.

Only the Chiefs can answer whether Hill deserved a second chance, and Hunt didn’t, but on the field, it’s probably not a coincidence that Hill is irreplaceable and Hunt isn’t.

Without Hunt in the final seven games, including the playoffs, of 2018, the Chiefs still averaged 114.6 rushing yards per game. While they did rush for a season-low 41 yards against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship, Kansas City didn’t beat New England with Hunt when they played during the regular season either. There’s no telling whether Hunt would have made the difference, especially when Hunt’s primary replacement, Damien Williams, gained 96 yards from scrimmage and scored three touchdowns in the AFC Championship defeat.

Hill, on the other hand, is arguably the fastest player in the league. In 2018, he made All-Pro with 87 receptions, 1,479 yards and 14 total touchdowns. Strictly speaking from a football perspective, Hill was a steal as a fifth-round draft pick and isn’t nearly as replaceable as Hunt.

It won’t matter Simmons isn’t at the NFL combine. Scouts will still attend his college pro day, just as they did with Hill and Mixon. Then based on his work out and college film, teams will weigh whether or not he’s worth taking a risk on during the draft.

More specifically, NFL teams will also discuss how big of a risk he is worth. Mixon was considered a first-round talent, but no team deemed him worth the risk until the Cincinnati Bengals drafted him in the second round. Some teams didn’t find Mixon worth the risk at all while others probably would have considered him more seriously in the later rounds.

Again, strictly from a football standpoint, Simmons is a diamond in the rough. As a junior in 2018, he recorded 17.0 tackles for loss. He only had 7.0 sacks in his college career, but scouts have called him a “dangerous interior rusher” who could be dynamic because of “his combination of speed and power.”

In a league with more and more passing, NFL teams are looking for more interior pass rushers, but they are rare.

For that reason, Simmons’ absence at the NFL scouting combine means absolutely nothing. Teams who consider Simmons this draft’s best insider pass rusher are going to take the risk and select him.

The only thing left to do is hope the 21-year-old takes advantage of his second chance and becomes a strong member of the NFL community.