Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Draft preview: Where 3 Spartans could end up in the 2021 NFL draft

April 29, 2021
<p>Then-junior cornerback Josiah Scott (22) and then-junior linebacker Antjuan Simmons (34) tackle a Sun Devils receiver during the game against Arizona State on Sept. 14, 2019, at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans fell to the Sun Devils, 10-7.</p>

Then-junior cornerback Josiah Scott (22) and then-junior linebacker Antjuan Simmons (34) tackle a Sun Devils receiver during the game against Arizona State on Sept. 14, 2019, at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans fell to the Sun Devils, 10-7.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

Michigan State Football is looking to make it 81 straight NFL draft’s where a player has been selected off of the Spartans’ roster and three players off of the defense look to make that a reality. 

Cornerback Shakur Brown, linebacker Antjuan Simmons and defensive tackle Naquan Jones each should have a shot to extend that streak for the Spartans. Here’s a breakdown of what their roles project to be in the NFL and where they could go in the 2021 NFL draft.

Shakur Brown, cornerback

Brown burst onto the scene in 2020 in what was his first full season as a starter, leading the FBS in interceptions per game. Brown’s ability to make big plays in open space is really intriguing to NFL teams.

Brown also flashed the ability to play all over the field in coverage, starting games covering slot receivers, outside receivers or even at the nickel spot. While he’ll likely play as a slot corner in the NFL, his ability to play just about anywhere in the secondary is interesting.

“Honestly, I don’t have a preference,” Brown said. “I don’t lose anything playing inside or outside.”

However, Brown’s size is an issue to be a full-time cornerback on the outside at 5-foot-10 and had lapses against guys like Ohio State’s Chris Olave and Indiana’s Whop Philyor on the outside. 

Brown has a lot of versatility and truly can play anywhere in the secondary, but his limitations on the outside with a smaller frame and the lack of top-end speed sets him apart from cornerbacks at the top of this draft like Alabama’s Patrick Surtain II or South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn.

Projection: Round 3-4

Antjuan Simmons, linebacker

Simmons, from a leadership and character standpoint, is everything you want in a linebacker. There was a reason Simmons was the guy prior to Mel Tucker’s introductory press conference to speak. He was the leader of the football team from day one.

As a player, Simmons led there too, leading the defense with 75 tackles and being the heart and soul of the defense. Simmons made key plays all year long including his pass breakup against rival Michigan to force a field goal in their upset win.

In the NFL, teams will likely view Simmons as an outside linebacker. Simmons has a strong ability to stop the run but had lapses in pass coverage and doesn’t have the athleticism of guys higher in the draft like Penn State’s Micah Parsons to be a strong or consistent pass rusher.

“Definitely I'm going to be a hard-working guy, positive attitude, leader, show up and do everything right, do whatever is needed to better the team, whatever it takes, I’m going to get the job done, and you're getting a heck of a football player,” Simmons said. I’m giving it 110 In practice, I'm giving 110 on game days, that's just the type of guy I am. I want to be the best, I want to win.”

Simmons described himself perfectly, and a team will buy into that along with his ability to stop the run. Simmons might not ever be the guy on an NFL defense, but he surely can be a guy in the locker room and in the rotation at linebacker that a team has for a long career.

Projection: Round 6 to priority undrafted free agent

Naquan Jones, defensive tackle

Jones, from the day he stepped onto a practice field in East Lansing, looked ready for the NFL. At six-foot-three and 313 pounds, Jones has the size and athletic ability to be a high-quality defensive tackle at the next level. The question is, when will that translate?

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In four seasons at MSU, the numbers and production never really came. This season, Jones racked up a career-high five tackles for loss but disappeared at times in games. While his size certainly helps plug holes in the run game, Jones will have to show he can do more to stick in the NFL.

"I was able to reach my goal weight," Jones said. "I looked pretty good today, I think, going through the position drills and going through the drills. Pretty much from teams I've been hearing that I have a bit of potential, and I have the you know the play level to compete at the next level. I just need to do what I need to do.”

Jones is another type of guy like Simmons that teams will love to have in their organization and in a thin defensive tackle class. He certainly has the opportunity to have a team take a chance on him on draft day, but it will likely be later on day three in the draft or immediately after as a free agent.

Projection: Round 7 to priority undrafted free agent

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