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The added value of bringing Isaiah Simmons into the AFC West

College Football Playoff National Championship - Clemson v LSU Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

This weekend I did a write-up on Clemson linebacker/safety Isaiah Simmons and the growing sentiment that he may be the best player in the 2020 NFL Draft. In spite of that praise, Simmons’ position — or lack thereof — could have him fall out of the top three. While the first two picks seem spoken for at the moment, the Detroit Lions will be the first team in the conversation for Simmons as of now.

Because the draft is also loaded at several other positions, it is possible that Simmons will be available when the LA Chargers are on the clock for pick six, if not later. Not every Chargers fan is on board with the idea of the team taking a linebacker or safety or slot cornerback (Simmons is all three) over a tackle or a quarterback, and that’s perfectly acceptable as I’m not advocating for any player at this point, but there is one aspect to Simmons’ value that I hadn’t written about.

And yet it’s something Simmons himself was hyping up at the combine: his value in stopping tight ends.

Simmons specifically shouts out Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs, a player who has made each of the last five Pro Bowls and two of the last four first-team All-Pro rosters. Against the Chargers last year, Kelce had seven catches for 92 yards and a touchdown in a 24-17 win. He was less productive in Week 17, three for 24, but the Chiefs had leaned heavier on the running game that day as they worked with a lead for most of the second half and Damien Williams was running all over.

But Kelce isn’t the only notable tight end in the division, as the recently-extended Darren Waller of the Las Vegas Raiders had 90 catches for 1,145 yards last season. Waller didn’t blow through the LA defense — seven catches for 77 yards on nine targets — but that doesn’t mean he’s not a threat within the division in the coming years.

Even the Denver Broncos are hoping to join the AFC West tight end conversation soon, seeing first round rookie Noah Fant catch 40 of 66 targets for 562 yards in 2019. Though Fant too struggled against the Chargers: two catches for 11 yards on four targets over two games.

All told, LAC may actually have been a top-10 defense against tight ends but this division is not lacking in scary talent at the position and all three opponents have those players locked in for the foreseeable future.

There’s also the matter of receiving backs, a growing trend in the NFL, and Simmons is expected to have a specialty in shutting those players down as well. Among the RBs who they could face on the schedule next year include Christian McCaffrey, Le’Veon Bell, James White, Alvin Kamara, and the duo of Phillip Lindsay & Royce Freeman. That’s before we see what some of their other opponents will do.

Clearly the one offense that every AFC team is concerned about is Kansas City’s, so there’s definitely going to be emphasis by all three divisional opponents to figure out how they can allow fewer points to Patrick Mahomes next season.

Simmons is being touted as a player who can cover tight ends, running backs, and slot receivers, and these days, containing those guys may be more important than containing the big names on the outside.