Scouting Jets offensive lineman John Simpson

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Taking a look at the Jets’ new guard

Now that free agency is well and truly underway, we’re going to be breaking down the players acquired by the New York Jets so far, continuing today with offensive lineman John Simpson.

The 26-year old Simpson is listed at 6’4” and 330 pounds. He was a fourth round pick out of Clemson in 2020. He has started 41 games in his NFL career, including three in the postseason.

Background

Simpson was a four-star high school recruit who headed to Clemson where, although he didn’t start a game in his first two seasons, he played almost 500 snaps as a key reserve.

In 2018, Simpson was named as the starting left guard. He started 29 straight games over the next two years. He was a 3rd-team All-ACC selection in his junior year, then named as a first-team All-ACC and consensus All-American as a senior. Clemson also won two national titles during his career.

The Las Vegas Raiders drafted Simpson in the fourth round of the 2020 draft and he began his rookie year as a reserve. However, he was called into action in week two due to an injury to Richie Incognito and then started his first game the following week. He struggled initially and ultimately started just two games and played in five others his rookie year.

In 2021, Simpson started all 17 games, with mixed results. However, in 2022, he was benched for Alex Bars in week three and just played on special teams for most of the year before being waived in December.

Having been signed to the Ravens’ practice squad, Simpson signed a futures deal at the end of the 2022 season and then beat out rookie Sala Aumavae–Laulu to be the starting left guard on a line that was otherwise returning its other four starters. Simpson started all 17 games and two postseason games for the Baltimore Ravens.

The Jets signed Simpson to a two-year deal worth up to $18 million during free agency.

Now let’s take a look at what Simpson brings to the table, divided into categories.

Measurables/Athleticism

Simpson has imposing size with big hands and long arms and showcased his strength at the scouting combine with 34 bench press reps.

He’s a good athlete too, as he ran a 5.24 in the 40-yard dash and posted excellent explosiveness numbers. His agility numbers were poor, although he shaved over a quarter of a second off his short shuttle time at his pro day.

Usage

Simpson has primarily played left guard during his career, and the Jets have already confirmed that he’ll start there for them in 2024. He has played 76 snaps at right guard in his pro career, with more reps there in preseason. He played 26 snaps at left tackle in college and also lined up in the backfield once and rushed for a one-yard touchdown.

Pass Blocking

Simpson only gave up one sack in 2023, which is a positive considering the fact that he’s replacing Laken Tomlinson, who gave up seven.

He fared better than he did in his previous year as a starter in 2021, with a lower pressure rate. He gave up three sacks that year. As a college player, Simpson never gave up more than one sack in a season.

He’s not bad at staying in front of a bull rush and has shown some improvement in that area since earlier on in his career.


He moves his feet well enough to get in front of his man, but he can lose leverage or balance to allow his man to get off the block.


Run Blocking

Simpson’s strength at the point of attack is one of his best attributes and he is capable of driving his man back.


However, there are times where he allows himself to get stood up or pushed back into the backfield.

Although he sometimes struggles to change direction to get the angle on his man in space and can lean into his blocks, Simpson is effective at pulling and taking out his target.


While he doesn’t consistently get out of his stance fast, he packs a good initial punch and can climb to the second level.


Short Yardage

The Ravens had good success running behind Simpson in short yardage situations last year. Gus Edwards alone had seven one-yard touchdown runs. On this play, Simpson pulls to the right to create room for the first down out of a heavy formation.


Screen Blocking

Simpson is capable of getting out in front of a screen and will hustle downfield to find someone to block.


Footwork/Technique

Simpson was a state champion as a high school wrestler, which often benefits linemen in terms of their technique and ability to win leverage battles.

Here’s an example of that, as he tries to make the reach block but has to reset his grip to ensure that he can move his feet across so that the defensive player doesn’t gain an outside leverage advantage.


He battles similarly in pass protection, using a wide base to anchor against the bull rush and stay in control of his man.


Penalties

Penalties are a minor concern for Simpson, who had 11 and 13 in his two seasons as a full-time starter, including postseason games.

Holding penalties have been his main issue, as he’s had 20. He’s also been called three times for illegal use of the hands and four times for false starts.

He has had three personal fouls, one of which was for a headbutt when the Ravens were on the opposing team’s goal line. They still scored on the next play, though.

Special Teams

Simpson has contributed as a blocker on the placekicking unit at the NFL and collegiate levels. He allowed one pressure in college and had one penalty in this role at the NFL level.

Instincts/Intelligence

Early on in Simpson’s career, there were a lot of examples of him reacting too late to stunts or delayed blitzes.


Although he will occasionally still react late on stunts, he has generally improved in terms of his ability to handle them, where his technique is sound.


When employed as the spare man in pass protection situations, he does a better job of keeping his head on a swivel and reacting to who needs help.

In the running game, he keeps his head up when climbing to the second level to find his target.

Attitude

Simpson grew up in a tough neighborhood, where he developed a hard-working attitude. He is apparently an extremely likeable character with a sense of humor, who developed into a leader and team captain while at Clemson. John Harbaugh praised him for seizing a starting role with his hard work.

On the field, he will get involved in chippiness and will often go “looking for work” as he displays a nasty streak. This was the second play in a row where he pancaked the defensive end.


Injuries

Simpson has avoided any serious injuries so far in his career. The majority of the 12 games he missed with the Raiders were healthy scratches.

He rolled his ankle and missed multiple games in his freshman year at Clemson and missed one game with a shoulder injury in his rookie year. He started every game in 2021 despite dealing with a minor rib injury at one point.

Scheme Fit

Simpson has had some success as a pulling lineman, which might compel the Jets to use more gap/power schemes in their running game, but they are likely to continue to also use inside and outside zone on a regular basis.

Simpson was a teammate of fellow Jets free agent addition Mike Williams at Clemson. He was also a teammate of current Jets Chuck Clark, Morgan Moses and Tae Hayes at Baltimore, and Vitaliy Gurman and Solomon Thomas when he was with the Las Vegas Raiders.

Conclusions

Simpson has really turned his career around since the Raiders released him just 16 months ago, and his 2023 season indicates that he has a bright future, even though some may have regarded him as one of the weaker links on an otherwise solid unit.

Although the Jets will be happy to have a player who has durability and experience as a starter as he is about to enter his prime, it’s worth noting that they were initially targeting Damien Lewis before pivoting to Simpson when Lewis signed for Carolina, so he may not have been their first choice.

Nevertheless, he should provide the Jets with an upgrade over Tomlinson in pass protection and will shore up the left side along with Tyron Smith as long as they can both stay healthy. Hopefully he can build on last year and improve his consistency with New York.

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Title: Scouting Jets offensive lineman John Simpson
Author: Bent

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