NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With a cast of hundreds of thousands invading Lower Broadway, the Tennessee Titans selected defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons (6-4, 300) out of Mississippi State with the 19th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Simmons, an All-American, was one of the most disruptive forces in college football during his tenure in Starkville. He finished his career with 32.5 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, five forced fumbles and seven passes defensed.
But Tennessee’s first-round selection comes with a considerable amount of baggage.
In 2016, Simmons was seen on video standing over Sophia Taylor and punching her repeatedly after trying to break up a fight between Taylor and Simmons’ sister. He was found guilty of malicious mischief and pleaded no contest to a simple assault. The then-incoming Bulldogs freshman was still allowed to enroll and join the football team but was suspended for the the first game that season against South Alabama.
“I take full responsibility for my actions that occurred on Thursday evening,” Simmons said after the fact in a post on social media. “My apology goes out to the Taylor family and especially to Sophia Taylor. What was I thinking? Honestly, I wasn’t thinking. All I could think was this is my family, and I am supposed to defend my family.”
After being selected Thursday night, Simmons went into further detail about the video on a conference call with local media.
“The day of the incident, my sister and the other lady were going back and forth,” said Simmons. “My little sister, she lost three kids. In that incident, (Taylor) was just like, ‘Fuck you and your dead kids’ to my sister. At that time, my sister was just like, ‘I’ve had enough of it,’ this and that. That’s when they got to fighting, and like I said my first reaction was actually breaking up the fight and (Taylor) ended up saying it again. Like I said, I just let my emotions take over. I wasn’t even thinking about the consequences.”
Simmons could have ended the altercation between Taylor and his sister in other ways. He didn’t.
But in Nashville, Simmons has been given a second chance by the Titans, GM Jon Robinson and coach Mike Vrabel. The Robinson-Vrabel press conference Thursday night after Simmons’ selection lacked the celebratory tone these things usually do.
Yes, they had gotten a much-needed force to bolster the interior of Tennessee’s defensive line…but are they prepared for the risks associated with attaching themselves and a franchise they have done so well in turning around to someone with Simmons’ past?
“I’ll say this,” Robinson stated at the opening of the presser. “since Amy (Adams Strunk) has been the controlling owner here and since I’ve been the general manager here, we haven’t brought in bad people to this organization. Jeffery (Simmons) made a mistake. We talked extensively about that with him. We talked extensively about that with numerous, countless people that have been a part of his life. He’s very regretful, and that’s something that he will live with forever. But I can’t tell you how many people spoke glowingly about him and his time there at Mississippi State.”
To Robinson’s credit, he is not wrong. Tennessee’s GM has made great strides in clearing out players who proved themselves undeserving of the second chances Simmons will now receive. It was Vrabel, though, whose comments Thursday night struck a cord with the assembled media that we did not expect.
— Buck Reising (@BuckReising) April 26, 2019
“There are bad people, and there are good people that make mistakes, bad horrific mistakes,” said Vrabel Thursday night. You can fix mistakes. You can’t fix bad people. I can’t wait, and I’m excited to have Jeff (Simmons) sit in front of you guys tomorrow and share that story. He doesn’t hide behind it. He stands up like a grown man and he owns it. I can promise you, I will be proud of him tomorrow when he meets with you or whatever he does. This is a good guy, this is a great guy who made a horrific mistake. He lives with it everyday of his life, and I’m very confident, as is Jon (Robinson) that he will make everyone here proud.”
Simmons will have plenty of time to showcase his character as he recovers from the ACL surgery he underwent this February. Simmons was injured while working out in his pre-draft preparations. Simmons told us it would be between two to three weeks before he is actually able to run. The timetable for an ACL surgery is typically between seven and eight months. First-round picks typically are expected to make an immediate impact on the team that drafted them; there is a good chance that Tennessee’s may not even be available in the 2019 campaign.
What fans (and media) should come away with, though, is this: Vrabel and Robinson are fully prepared to stick their collective necks out for the newest member of their team. To this point, neither coach or GM has given fans or media reason to distrust their decision-making when it comes to character. The reality is that now both men have waded head first into waters they did not need to in the hopes that the man we saw beating a woman on video three years ago has come as far as they believe he has.
This will follow Simmons for the rest of his life. It should. We will find out over the coming months and years if this decision will follow Vrabel and Robinson for the rest of theirs as well.