On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to speak with Clemson LB Trenton Simpson during the media interview portion of the NFL Combine. Having previously completed the pre-draft profile on Simpson, I came away higher in the defender than what I initially perceived I would, believing him to be more of a tweener that lacked true splash to his game. However, after diving into the tape from the past two seasons, you saw a defender in Simpson that has all the physical traits and versatility to make an impact at all levels of the football field.
Simpson had quite the “coach” growing up as a child with his father, Command Sargent Major Timothy D. Simpson, having served 17 overseas tours from 1994-21 in his decorated career with the U.S. Army Rangers. Not only did having a father in the military prepare Simpson for football at the highest level physically, but it also helped him develop as a man and a leader for his teammates.
“It’s definitely taught me a lot about discipline, being on time, and in the military, you got to be your brother’s keeper and that’s what I pride myself on at Clemson,” Simpson said. “I take pride in that my dad fights for this country. He’s a very great man. He’s a great leader. He served for 26 years, 17 deployments. So, being able to have my dad as somebody to look at as motivation is truly a blessing because I can ask him a lot about adversity how to respond to things like that. He’s just a great father for me and a great role model.”
Simpson is grateful for the life lessons that his father and the rest of his comrades taught him as a kid, being born and raised on Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. When asked what he brings to the table at the NFL level, Simpson pointed not only to his physical abilities, but also to his character and leadership established in the locker room at Clemson.
“I’m versatile and I’m a great teammate,” Simpson said. “That’s really the most important thing, being a great teammate, somebody in the locker room that they can trust on and off the field. So, I know that’s what I bring and that’s my character. So, just continue to be myself and I’ll be great.”
Simpson’s energy and sincerity are infectious, having a passion and a love for the game as well as the process that has brought him to this point. While recognized for his physical talent and athleticism, Simpson has been praised for being a good teammate as well by fellow players and the coaching staff. Still, he knows that his versatility, having played on the edge, in the box, and split out in coverage, is attractive for teams looking for an ILB prospect that can wear many hats.”
“I would honestly say I can do it all,” Simpson said to me. “That’s great for me. I feel like I bring value to any team. I can play on all three downs, and that’s what I pride myself and I want to be versatile. So, anybody that watches my game and cuts on the tape, they can see that I can do it at all three levels. And that’s just bringing more value to a team and knowing that they can get one player and be able to play in three roles for sure.”
As mentioned in my pre-draft profile, Trenton Simpson 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. He mentioned that his favorite role is to spy the QB, having the speed to track down mobile QBs in the open field which could make him an attractive option to Pittsburgh with Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson in the division. He also shows great pursuit of the ball as a run defender and has shown the capacity to take on and fight off blocks against the run.
Still, Simpson has received some scrutiny due to his “lack of position” in college as a hybrid defender that really doesn’t have a true positional “fit” given his snap distribution at the college level. He does need to adjust to playing more in the box and consistently works around blocks to hold up more as a traditional off-ball linebacker, but Simpson responded that his “lack of position should be seen as a negative, but rather an opportunity to impact and become a greater player.
“I can say just improve on certain things,” Simpson told me regarding playing more off-ball at the next level. “Just getting with a great coach and improving in all aspects. I feel like as a football player, you can improve in everything, and I feel like new coaches teaching new techniques and things of that nature. So, I feel like getting with a great NFL coach at linebacker, I’ll be able to improve quickly at everything. My game will discontinue to improve every year.”
Trenton Simpson has a can-do attitude and won’t let you tell him that he can’t do something. It’s not in his nature. Just ask his father who was asked to accomplish some of the most difficult tasks to keep this country safe. This mindset is something that you must admire from Simpson, and it emulates the message that Steelers HC Mike Tomlin preaches consistently to his players. When I asked about Tomlin and if he plans to meet with Pittsburgh, Simpson spoke glowingly about Tomlin and the opportunity to meet with the Steelers formally soon.
“He’s a great guy,” Simpson said. “I’ve been able to see him come to the facility a couple times in my career. I remember my first Clemson practice in spring ball, I was able to see him, and I was like, ‘Man, that’s Mike Tomlin.’. But just the relationship he has with players. He coached Jaylen Samuels from my high school Mallard Creek. So, he’s told me a lot about him. He’s a great guy and I look forward to meeting him.”
It appears that former Steelers RB Jaylen Samuels has given Simpson the scoop on Tomlin and the Steelers organization outside of what Simpson has already gathered in his own meetings with Tomlin on campus. From a hearts and smarts perspective, Simpson passes with flying colors regarding the type of character the Steelers are looking for in their locker room. You know having a father in the military gets him extra brownie points as well, having great pedigree as an athlete and highly touted recruit, but also giving his family background.
It all comes down to if Tomlin and DC Teryl Austin are comfortable allowing Simpson to play multiple roles on the defense in Pittsburgh, should they select him. Sure, he can line up inside the box and play 60+ snaps there, but then you wouldn’t be using him to his full potential like former DC Brent Venables did his first two seasons at Clemson. The Steelers desperately need to find a long-term solution at ILB, and while Trenton Simpson is more of a projection, his traits as well as his character make him a tantalizing prospect.