Jeffrey Simmons’ ACL tear should not deter Cleveland Browns

STARKVILLE, MS - OCTOBER 21: Stephen Johnson #15 of the Kentucky Wildcats throws a pass as Jeffery Simmons #94 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs tries to defend during the first half of an NCAA football game at Davis Wade Stadium on October 21, 2017 in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
STARKVILLE, MS - OCTOBER 21: Stephen Johnson #15 of the Kentucky Wildcats throws a pass as Jeffery Simmons #94 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs tries to defend during the first half of an NCAA football game at Davis Wade Stadium on October 21, 2017 in Starkville, Mississippi. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images) /

Despite potential first-round pick Jeffery Simmons tearing his ACL, the injury should not take Simmons off the Cleveland Browns draft board.

Mississippi State defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons’ torn ACL knocked him out of several mock drafts, but he might yet be going to the Cleveland Browns in the real NFL draft April 25 in Nashville.  Simmons tore his ACL while working out and the internet went into conniptions. Several draft analysts offered the opinion that Simmons will almost certainly miss the 2019 season, with a corresponding major impact in his draft status. But is that downgrade truly justified?

Journals like the American Journal of Sports Medicine are informative in this case. To make a long story short, Shah et al, which includes famed surgeon James Andrews among its co-authors, observes that “63 percent (31 of 49) of NFL athletes returned to NFL game play (RTP) at an average of 10.8 months after surgery. Age at time of surgery, position, and the type and number of procedures were not significantly different between those who did and did not return to play…The odds ratio favoring RTP was 12.2 (P < .001) for those players drafted in the first 4 rounds of the NFL draft compared with those drafted after the fourth round.”

Translation: The chances of making a successful recovery are very high for a player who is a fourth round pick or earlier.  Also, there is a decent chance of coming back earlier than one year. A great deal depends on the specifics of the player’s injury to be sure. Each person’s injury and rehabilitation are different. We don’t know the extent of the damage to Simmons’ knee, but in the absence of evidence to the contrary, there is at least some chance that the player could contribute in 2019. The medical report is needed to make a better estimate.

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There is a very good chance that a superior athlete with an ACL can return to high athletic performance. Keller et al show that, within a study group of 98 NFL-calibre athletes, an ACL injury had very little effect on 40-yard dash time, vertical leap or other measurable performance parameters at the NFL Combines.

Of course, Adrian Peterson was able to lead the NFL in rushing in 2012 with an astounding 2,097 yards, despite tearing his ACL on Christmas 2011. He added three additional 1,000 yard seasons after the ACL surgery. It’s not the kiss of death, although one of the curious claims from Shah et al are that the success rate goes down for less talented players.

The position of defensive tackle also matters in the projection for 2019. Defensive linemen often have a rotation, with different players coming in and out of the lineup depending upon the situation. The situation might be very different for an offensive lineman, because the offensive line tends to stay on the field and perform as a unit, with very little substitution. Austin Corbett had 14 snaps in tackle-eligible plays, but four linemen missed zero snaps.

At left tackle, Greg Robinson went in for Desmond Harrison in Week 9, and that was the only substitution the Browns made all season long. On the other hand, the mentality is totally different on defense. Rather than sustaining drives, defenders like to come in the game and immediately disrupt the other team, cause chaos and blow up the other team’s offense. If a player is good enough to play, say 20 percent of the defensive snaps, that could still be an important contribution, including–dare we suggest–the playoffs. Thus, Jeffery Simmons could be useful as a situational player, and he would not necessarily have to establish himself in the first game of the season.

Overall, the loss of a few games in the beginning of the 2019 season is not going to be a big deal for Simmons’ overall career. A first round draft pick is committed to the team for four years plus an option year, or 80 games plus playoffs if all goes well. Plus, the rookie season is usually not earth shattering anyway. Player development usually believes that the players get better for the first five years of their career, rather than hitting their peak in the first half season. The team is not counting on some giant contribution from a rookie in the early going of 2019 unless we’re talking about another Saquon Barkley or something.

Moreover, it is not a bad thing to have a player who starts the season on the Physically Unable to Play (PUP) list or similar status, because the team may have the opportunity to use the roster spot for another player. All teams have fewer players as the season progresses, so if Simmons were to start making a contribution late in the season, that might be good timing. In the meantime the Browns might be able to keep another player from a talented roster that would otherwise have to be cut. Hence, if the Browns draft Simmons, they get the player, and they probably also get an extra roster spot to carry an extra man until Simmons is ready to play. It is not a negative to draft Simmons. He can help the roster by both playing later in the season and not playing early in the season.

Analytics and Draft Rating

An analytics-based approach would assign some value to each player, which would be revised upwards in the event of positive information (i.e., suppose he performs better at the combine than your scouts expected), or downwards in the case of negative information (an ACL injury requiring surgery or an off the field issue, both of which affect Jeffery Simmons in the 2019 draft.

To estimate the effect of the ACL, one approach would be to estimate his value numerically, and then see how much it should be adjusted due to the injury. One common grading scale was set up by Gil Brandt of the Cowboys under the sponsorship of Tex Schramm, with Jimmy Johnson also having input. The Brandt system assigns a grade of 1,000 points for a mid-level (16th overall) first round pick. A copy of the Brandt chart is appended to the end of this article.  It is intended to be proportional to the player’s value. Games missed result in decreased value, as well as decreased level of performance.

We should ding Simmons somewhat for probably missing some time, but as suggested above, there is a very good chance that he will be at or close to his peak even after the injury. If we project Simmons’ availability at 72 games instead of 80, that’s a difference of 10 percent. There is no reason to think that the player would lose as much as half his value, especially because the first eight games of a player’s career are usually nowhere near his peak. 10-20 percent seems more reasonable.

So if you are in the war room with John Dorsey and Paul DePodesta, and they tell you they had Simmons rated at 1,000 and they need your recommendation for how much to downgrade him on the basis of an ACL repair in February 2019, what is your recommendation?

Based on the above reasoning, you might downplay his value by 10-20 percent. A score of 800 on the Brandt scale corresponds to the 21st overall pick rather than the 16th overall pick. At 17th overall, the Browns are in the right neighborhood to make that pick.

Off the Field Issues May be More Significant

A more difficult issue to evaluate is the off field issues, as there was a violent controversy purportedly involving Simmons and a woman, which was captured on video.

The Browns as an organization seem very confident that the resources are in place to help troubled players with off-the-field issues, although there is very little evidence that the Browns have devoted resources in the form of counselors, medical professionals and training programs that would allow them to actually make the necessary impact in the lives of these players.

Nevertheless, the Browns, like other teams, are going to have to assess whether Simmons can be rehabilitated, especially after having already made the decision to acquire the services of the very controversial Kareem Hunt. Presumably that means the Browns are using professional investigators and medical professionals to create an in-depth evaluation in addition to his evaluation on-the-field.

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As for the on-the-field need, very little needs to be said about that other than to note that the Browns slid from second in the league in defensive rushing yards allowed per carry in 2017, all the way to 20th in 2018. This despite the presence of superstar defensive end Myles Garrett and linebacker Joe Schobert, suggesting that the other positions on the front seven could use some upgrading. Although incumbent defensive tackle’s Trevon Coley and Larry Ogunjobi have played well in the past, 2018 was overall a very bad year for the defensive tackle position. Hence, this may be one of the positions to be addressed in free agency and/or the draft, if not by Simmons, then someone else.