Phillips, 24, made his NFL regulars season debut last season through two games with the Bills, ironically making his debut against the Jets during the teams’ get-together in Week 1. Alas for Phillips, a quadriceps injury limited to only one other game in November. All 14 of his snaps came on special teams.
The Buffalo arrival was the latest step on Phillips’ most unusual journey to the NFL. He was originally committed to Western Michigan’s football team (set to join fellow new Jet Corey Davis) but was ruled academically ineligible. After a year away from the game, Phillips joined up with Garden City Community College in Kansas. He’d pick up seven sacks in his freshman season and earned 95 tackles the following year as the Broncbusters topped Arizona Western College to capture the NJCAA National Championship.
Phillips later saw his Division I dreams realized through a new chance at Illinois. He would go on to tally 180 tackles, including 10 for a loss and 2.5 sacks, in two seasons. During his senior campaign, Phillips was tied for second in the Big Ten with a quartet of interceptions. Phillips also held defensive captaincy honors during his final season in 2018.
Though Phillips was undrafted after his time in Champaign, he joined up with the Atlanta Falcons during the 2019 preseason, earning 21 tackles and a pair of fumble recoveries over five exhibitions (including the Hall of Fame Game). He was part of Atlanta’s final cuts, but was signed to the Bills’ practice squad just over a month later.
New York Jets LB Neville Hewitt has worked mostly as a reserve, but the defender has come up big at certain points of his football career.
Neville Hewitt is used to his football jersey carrying shades of green. It began with the Thundering Herd of Marshall, where he earned Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2014. Such an honor failed to lead to a phone call during the NFL Draft. But Hewitt has since been carving a solid career for himself in the NFL.
Hewitt turns 27 on Monday, and he’ll have extra cash to spend courtesy of the New York Jets. The reserve linebacker was signed to a one-year, $2 million dollar earlier this offseason, welcoming him back for a third Jets season.
While Hewitt has mostly come off the bench, he has proven himself valuable on several occasions. In honor of Hewitt’s big day, we look back on the best moments of his NFL career to date…
12/17/16: Miami Nice
One of Hewitt’s first big NFL moments came at a Jets game at MetLife Stadium under the supervision of Adam Gase. But Hewitt wasn’t a member of the Jets just yet…he, Gase, and the Miami Dolphins were wrapping up the team’s first winning season since 2008 in a Saturday night showdown in East Rutherford.
In the final stages of the third quarter, Hewitt earned his first NFL sack, part of a five-tackle evening. Short-lived Jets starter Bryce Petty was the victim, and Miami took the game by a 34-13 final. They would earn a wild-card playoff berth with an overtime win over Buffalo the week after.
12/9/18: Hew Era Field
After three years in Miami, Hewitt joined the Jets in March 2018. Reps as a reserve and as a special teamer awaited him, but Hewitt was pressed into starting when calamities hit the linebacking group (i.e. a season-ending suspension to Darron Lee). Hewitt’s first Jets start came in a visit to Buffalo.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen tried to pick on Hewitt, throwing to his assignments nine times. Only three made it to their target, and Hewitt also tied for the team lead with eight tackles. He and Henry Anderson also united for a sack on Allen, one that helped stall a Buffalo drive in Jets territory. The Jets wound up winning the game 27-23.
12/23/18: Invading Mr. Rodgers’ Neighborhood
Hewitt had no problem working overtime for Christmas…or, at least, for Festivus. He wound up partaking in every single snap in the Jets’ 44-38 overtime defeat at the hands of the Green Bay Packers.
Despite the loss, Hewitt created a solid showcase. He tied a career-best with nine tackles and earned the first solo sack of his Jets career with a takedown of Aaron Rodgers. The star quarterback was forced into several other throwaways thanks to Hewitt pressure, but nonetheless got knocked down three separate times.
9/8/19: Just Joshin’
When will Josh Allen learn? Perhaps Hewitt heroics too often come in Jets losses, but the linebacker certainly played a role in the effort to prevent a 17-16 loss to the Bills on opening weekend last year by victimizing the Bills’ franchise man again.
Allen only targeted Hewitt assignments on four occasions this time around, but the defender made him pay on one such chance. His interception of Allen in the late stages of the second quarter gave the Jets a chance to build a two-possession lead just before halftime. Alas, Kaare Vedvik let Hewitt’s gift go to waste by missing a 44-yard attempt, one of the biggest differences in the narrow defeat.
Hewitt’s robbery was the second interception of his career. As a rookie Dolphin, he earned his first turnover with an interception of Tony Romo during a November 2015 tilt against Dallas.
11/17/19: Rude Washington Welcome
Interconference play seems to bring out the best in Hewitt. He set a new career-best with 11 tackles against Philadelphia in October, but he had a deadlier surprise in store for the Washington Redskins when the Jets hit up FedExField just over a month later.
A dire matchup between teams with a combined three wins was at least partly anticipated for one occasion. First-round pick Dwayne Haskins, the latest in an endless line of Washington franchise saviors, was making his first Landover start. Hewitt was happy to issue the first interception-induced home groans, as it was he that was responsible for Haskins’ first turnover on his new stomping grounds. It was one of several fireworks the Jets enjoyed in a 34-17 win, one that helped spark a 6-2 streak to end the 2019 season.
The New York Giants are picking fourth overall in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. This is their third straight season picking inside the top-ten. It is a crucial draft that general manager Dave Gettleman needs to get right in order to keep his job.
There is one name that keeps getting linked to the Giants at fourth overall: Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons.
This is the beginning of a new article series here on Empire Sports Media. This new series, the NFL Draft Profile series, will feature breakdowns of notable draft prospects to create a profile that summarizes and highlights the prospects’ top strengths and weaknesses.
Granted, I am not an expert draft analyst. However, in this article, I will be breaking down Isaiah Simmons as a prospect after watching hours of his film and using credible draft analysis from various sites such as NFL.com, Pro Football Focus, and The Draft Network intertwined with my own analysis. I will use the expert analysis to cross-check and cross-reference. I will use it to confirm or deny what I have seen on film. This article will also be accompanied by a YouTube video.
Stay tuned for plenty more Draft Profiles by myself and others on Empire Sports Media leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft. And if you have any feedback, critiques, or questions, you can reach me on Twitter: @Anthony_Rivardo. Also, check out the YouTube video that accompanies this article featuring a film breakdown here.
Before I get into Isaiah Simmons’s Top Strengths, I will list my grades on Isaiah’s traits/skills after watching and taking notes on hours of Isaiah’s game tape:
Play Recognition: 9
Ability to Cut Through Traffic: 7
Consistent Tackler: 9
Speed to Get to the Sideline: 10
Effective Blitzer: 7
As can be seen from these grades, Simmons is an elite athlete with high football IQ. However, he has some work to do as a true linebacker and could afford to put on a bit more size to help with his strength and ability to fight through contact. If you want to try making your own scouting profile on any NFL Draft prospects, check out John Chapman’s NFL Draft Scouting Rubric here.
Now, to discuss Isaiah’s Top Strengths:
Isaiah Simmons completely dominated the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine. He nearly broke the internet with his running back-level forty-yard dash time of 4.39 seconds, which was the best time by a linebacker by far. Isaiah also recorded the second-best broad jump by a linebacker at 11’0″ and the tied-third-best vertical jump at 39″.
These numbers should come as no surprise to anyone who watched Simmons play at Clemson. Isaiah demonstrated this speed, explosiveness, and athletic superiority time and time again during his collegiate playing days. Take this interception by Simmons as an example:
Simmons was playing safety here and started in the middle of the field. The opposing quarterback attempted to fit the ball to the receiver down the right sideline, but Simmons’s incredible speed and range allowed him to get all the way to the sideline to make the interception. Linebackers should not be able to do such a thing. In fact, linebackers can not do such a thing. Only Isaiah Simmons can do such a thing. This play perfectly leads us into Simmons’s next Top Strength.
As seen in the video above, Isaiah Simmons has the speed/athleticism to cover the entire field. He demonstrated elite coverage ability from a linebacker over and over again at Clemson.
This play below is a perfect example of Isaiah’s ridiculous man-coverage ability. Simmons went stride for stride with now-NFL receiver Myles Boykin, got his head turned around and used his length to reach over Boykin and bat the ball down. He was in perfect position throughout the entire route and gave the receiver no chance to make a play on the ball:
That play is only one example of many impressive man-coverage snaps from Isaiah Simmons. His man-coverage shined in the following games for reference: Clemson versus Notre Dame 2018, Clemson versus Virginia 2019, and Clemson versus Ohio State University in 2019 (despite one bad play in man-coverage at the end of this game, he was consistently lock-down throughout the game).
There are times, I noticed, where Simmons gets a little lost in zone coverage. For reference, in Clemson’s game against Texas A&M in 2018, Simmons let up two big plays in zone coverage. The second of the two plays was a crucial 3rd and 8 with 2:22 left in the 4th quarter where Simmons lost the receiver (who sat down in Isaiah’s zone) in his peripheral vision and allowed him to make the reception for a first down and gain all the way down to the one yard-line.
(To cross-check and support what I saw on tape, I looked at scouting profiles of Simmons on The Draft Network. Kyle Crabbs listed “Zone Coverage Anticipation” as Isaiah Simmons’s “Worst Trait.”)
Isaiah Simmons is an excellent prospect and has elite man-coverage ability. However, after watching hours of his game tape, I have noticed that he could use some work polishing up his performance in zone coverage. Still my pick for the #Giants at 4.#GiantsPride#GiantsChatpic.twitter.com/O4hu2KWAh6
Simmons was inconsistent at times in zone coverage (though far above-average for his position), but he was consistently elite in man coverage, especially for a linebacker. His coverage ability is comparable to that of a safety, which leads us to our next Top Strength.
Isaiah Simmons played over 100 snaps at five different positions in the 2019 CFB season. According to Pro Football Focus, Simmons played 100 snaps at strong safety, 116 snaps at outside linebacker, 132 snaps at free safety, 262 snaps at slot cornerback, and 299 snaps at inside linebacker.
There is no other player like Isaiah Simmons. He can play every position on defense and he can play them all better than most prospects. Typically, a linebacker excels in one area and can be a bit of a liability in other areas. That is not the case with Isaiah Simmons. He is an X-factor in pass coverage, has above-average pass-rushing capabilities, and is impressive in run defense.
The 2020 College Football National Championship Game was a perfect demonstration of Isaiah’s versatility:
As stated in his top strengths, Isaiah Simmons is an unbelievably versatile football player. He played nearly every position on Clemson’s defense. But, moving around the defense so often means that Simmons played a limited number of snaps at his NFL position of linebacker.
In 2019, Simmons played less than 300 snaps at inside linebacker (299). Ideally, you would like to see a top-ten linebacker prospect have more experience playing the traditional inside linebacker position. However, for teams with clever defensive coordinators, this is not a big deal. The best coordinators will build schemes around the players, not plug players into roles/positions in a scheme and try to make it work.
Potentially Difficult Skillset To Translate To The Pro Game:
Isaiah Simmons’s versatility is rare. It is one-of-a-kind. Typically, when NFL fans refer to a player as a “Swiss Army Knife,” they are describing a versatile safety that has the ability to play in the box as well as in deep coverage. But Simmons is the exact opposite of that- he is a versatile linebacker with the ability to play deep coverage.
Simmons made the transition from safety in 2017 to linebacker in 2018 and excelled in his new role. He built on an impressive 2018 season in 2019, solidifying himself as a linebacker and demonstrating a rare skillset. But there are some who still question what his role in an NFL defensive scheme will be and whether he will play more linebacker or safety.
We have seen some “do-it-all” safeties find success graduating to the NFL: Jamal Adams and Derwin James are perfect examples. However, we have seen others struggle and fail to translate their skillset to the professional game: examples include Jabrill Peppers, Mark Barron, Deone Bucannon.
Isaiah Simmons is larger and stronger than every single one of those players, though. He has linebacker size at 6 feet 3 inches, 238 pounds. But even that is something that Simmons could improve on.
Occasionally, tight ends are able to handle Isaiah Simmons and shove him out of the way. Yes, I stated above that Simmons is 238 pounds, heavier than Roquan Smith. So it might not necessarily be a weight thing.
His game is more finesse than power, which is fine, but gaining some strength and bulking up a bit more could serve Simmons well.
Do not get it twisted though, Simmons can demolish running backs as a blitzer (GIF via PFF):
To put it simply: the good severely outweighs the bad when analyzing Isaiah Simmons’s strengths and weaknesses. There are questions regarding his efficiency in zone coverage, what his role might look like in an NFL defensive scheme, and if he has the strength to dominate against professionals. However, the potential upside with a 238 pound 21-year-old that can play nearly every position on defense is far more encouraging than the flaws are discouraging.
Isaiah Simmons should get serious consideration from the New York Giants at the fourth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. He could transform their defense with a new versatile skillset and provide stability at the linebacker position that the Giants have not had in over a decade. There are plenty of other options for the Giants, which I will break down soon, but at this point, it is hard not to put Simmons’s name at the top of the list.
Once again, if you have any feedback, critiques, or questions, you can reach me on Twitter: @Anthony_Rivardo. Also, be sure to check out the Isaiah Simmons Draft Profile video on YouTube where I go more in-depth and do some film breakdowns. Let me know via Twitter or YouTube which prospect you want me to break down next.