With the start of NFL free agency just a few weeks away, while everyone is looking at draft preparation, you can bet that the Steelers are already thinking about some potential targets to add to their roster in March.
While everyone is excited about the Steelers cap room, my guess is most of that goes towards signing guys already on the team and free agency looks about the same as usual. With that in mind, there’s one name out there that caught my eye that could be a really cost-effective signing for the Steelers.
That guys is Texans OLB John Simon. A little bit of history on Simon’s career thus far…
He was a late 4th round pick in the 2013 draft to the Ravens. Simon had a very good college career with the Steelers’ draft pick factory, The Ohio State University. The scouting reports on Simon were pretty much the white guy cliché writeup, but they did fit. He was a guy that didn’t have the length or explosiveness you want in a typical edge rusher, however he wins with a relentless motor and sound technique. He also had plus intangibles as a weight room warrior and 2-time team captain. Urban Meyer once said that Simon was one of his favorite players he ever coached.
Simon never caught on with the Ravens but was scooped up by the Texans where he seemed to develop well under linebackers coach (and former Steelers edge rusher) Mike Vrabel.
While never a starter in Houston, Simon did start 12 games over the past 2 seasons as Jadaveon Clowney has missed plenty of time early in his career. Over the past 2 years Simon notched 8.5 sacks for the Texans and appeared to be having his best season yet in 2016 before he went down with a chest injury that ended his season. Prior to the 2016 season, Simon made some noise in the pre-season by scoring 2 defensive touchdowns.
With Simon now hitting free agency, my hope is that he recognizes the Texans aren’t likely to play him a ton unless there are injuries to starters Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. While the Steelers won’t necessarily make him a starter either, there’s plenty of playing time to be won here if he earns it. While everyone expects James Harrison to return in 2017, it would be unwise to expect him to play a large number of snaps all season long.
For the reasons above, I think that Simon is a guy that seems ready to break out of his current role.
However, what I really like about Simon is his unique skillset and how he could fit the Steelers’ current scheme.
This past season, we saw a defense in the nickel a lot, which required the spot that Harrison manned to play as a 4th man on the line of scrimmage. That’s a tough spot for a Steelers linebacker to hold down because it requires them to take on offensive tackles in the run game… Something Dick Lebeau’s linebackers weren’t asked to do; they typically had a guy like Brett Keisel or Aaron Smith in front of them to take on those guys. Early in the season the run defense suffered because Keith Butler (unfairly, in my opinion) had Jarvis Jones in that spot trying to play defensive line. Once Harrison played more though, we saw an improvement because James Harrison is, as we all know, a freak of nature and a rare linebacker strong enough to handle those types of blockers.
John Simon, in my opinion, can be that type of player. He was listed at 6’1″ 260 pounds at the combine, which is similar measurables to what James Harrison is listed at. I’m not sure what Simon is at right now, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think he could put on some weight if needed. Simon played some defensive tackle early in his Buckeyes career.
While I love Arthur Moats as a person, we saw him playing less and less as the season wore on, I believe in part because he doesn’t fit the mold I’ve described above. With him becoming a free agent, I think Simon could be a similar under the radar signing as Moats that could come in and contribute a lot.