John Simon enters his third season with the New England Patriots as one of the most versatile — and most underrated — players on the 2020 roster.
John Simon has had an interesting career.
He was a star at Ohio State from 2009 to 2012, racking up tackles and sacks at an extraordinary pace against some the best competition in college football. The zenith of his collegiate track occurred his senior year when he was named the Big Ten Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
Despite all the accolades earned at one of the premier blue-chip college football factories in America, Simon wasn’t selected until the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He appeared in just seven games for the team that drafted him (Baltimore) before the Ravens cut him following his rookie year.
Simon stayed with Baltimore on their practice squad for half of 2014 until the Texans signed him. He spent most of his career in Houston, playing there under Bill O’Brien from 2014 through 2016. He logged 116 tackles, 10 sacks, three passes defended, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery down there over the course of 38 total games spanning three seasons.
The Texans’ division rival, the Indianapolis Colts, signed Simon in free agency following the 2016 season, but he played in just nine games in 2017 for his new team after landing on IR with a shoulder injury. Indy then cut Simon right at the start of the 2018 season.
Twenty-five days after Simon’s release, Bill Belichick scooped him up and added him to the defensive rotation. He won his first Super Bowl ring with the New England Patriots that season (Super Bowl 53 versus the Los Angeles Rams) and chipped in 17 tackles and two sacks over 11 games of action.
Simon played in just his second full 16-game season last year (his first since 2015 with the Texans). As a key supportive member on New England’s league-leading defense in 2019, Simon was responsible for 44 tackles, four sacks, four passes defended (a career high), one forced fumble, and one interception.
All in all, it was easily one of the best seasons of a seven-year professional career that has largely flown under the radar.
Best-case scenario projection for 2020
That’s just it: Simon’s career has largely flown under the radar thus far. If all goes according to plan in 2020, however, that won’t be the case any more.
The 29-year-old is primed for a breakout campaign now that he has a full season-and-a-half of experience in the Patriots system under his belt. He could take a backseat on the New England roster when there were bigger names like Jamie Collins, Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, and Michael Bennett out there playing defensive end/outside linebacker.
But all those players are gone now — some of them long-gone. It’s Simon’s turn to shine.
He doesn’t need to earn a Pro Bowl nod or anything — that’s probably a bit out of reach. If he can just set a career high for himself in sacks perhaps this year (5.5 would do it) and set a solid edge against opposing rushers, that’s probably a best-case scenario for him.
Anything else (picks, touchdowns, fumbles) is just icing on the cake.
Worst-case scenario projection for 2020
There is a ton of young talent waiting in the wings at the defensive end/outside linebacker spot on this team.
Chase Winovich, Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, Derek Rivers, Shilique Calhoun … any one of these guys could challenge Simon for snaps and starts this year.
My prediction is that Simon and Winovich are the Day 1 starters opposite one another at end, but it’s all subject to training camp and the preseason of course (if those things still happen).
In a worst-case scenario though, Simon gets leapfrogged by a younger, hungrier player who seizes hold of the starting spot and never looks back. While he could remain on as a situational player, it’s less likely in this scenario he’d last in New England beyond 2020 — not with all the ascendant young talent coming up.