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As NFL evolves, Isaiah Simmons, Patrick Queen could be key to future success

INDIANAPOLIS — There are at least 116 reasons why Clemson's Isaiah Simmons and LSU's Patrick Queen won't be on the board long when the 2020 NFL Draft begins in April.

One-hundred-and-sixteen times this past season, Travis Kelce burst off the line of scrimmage and hauled in a pass.

From an in-line position or out wide, Kelce beat the defense for big plays. Including the postseason, he recorded 1,272 receiving yards and six touchdowns.

In a snowy Week 14 game against the Broncos, he caught 11 passes for 142 yards.

Across the league, team builders have searched for ways to combat Kelce and San Francisco's All-Pro tight end George Kittle.

"The game is evolving, so the name of the game now is stopping tight ends, so something has to be done to stop these Travis Kelces and George Kittles out there," Simmons said Thursday at the NFL Combine.

Both he and Queen think they could be the answer.

During his career at Clemson, Simmons served as an interchangeable piece on Brent Venables' defense. One week, Simmons played safety. Another, slot corner. A third, inside linebacker.

Some weeks, he played as many as five positions in the same game. He joked Thursday that he played every position on the field except for interior defensive line.

And while in previous years, a so-called positionless player would be viewed through a negative lens, Simmons thinks his versatility can be his calling card at the NFL level.

"I would do everything I did in college," Simmons said. "Just kind of like a Swiss Army knife, move me around because then I'm able to show what I can really do. I wouldn't say I'm really tied down to one position."

Simmons said Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu is the most comparable player to him in the NFL, but he said his own game contains more elements.

"I model my game after a couple people," Simmons said. "If I have to go look at film of somebody to get something it would be Von Miller just for pass rush, Jalen Ramsey for man techniques and Tyrann Mathieu just because he plays around everywhere as well. I take bits and pieces from all of them and kind of throw them into my game."

Asked if he was the perfect hybrid linebacker, Simmons was concise.

"Absolutely," he said.

Simmons tallied 104 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks and three interceptions during his redshirt junior season.

With the Broncos, Simmons would seemingly see most of his time at positions other than safety. Pro Bowl alternate Kareem Jackson returns in 2020, and John Elway said Tuesday the team would use the franchise tag to keep Justin Simmons (no relation) with the team in the event they are unable to work out a long-term deal.

The younger Simmons, NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah's sixth-ranked prospect, could still add value for the Broncos at cornerback or inside linebacker.

If the Broncos choose to target a more protypical linebacker, Queen could be an answer.

Though Jeremiah said Queen is undersized for the position, his coverage skills and blitzing ability could be enough to entice a team.

"Everybody has a different thing that separates them," Queen said. "I feel like mine would be speed and aggressiveness and being able to do multiple things at the position."

Queen recorded 85 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, three sacks and an interception in 2019, and he was named the defensive MVP of the College Football Playoff national championship game.

And while Queen lacks Simmons' height, he also feels like he can slow players like Kelce.

"That's a specialty for me, being able to cover people out of the backfield, being able to cover tight ends," Queen said. "I feel like I'm that athlete that can do that, as well as play the run, because you can't have a linebacker in there just to cover and then when it's time to run the ball, you can't stop the run. I feel like I bring every tool to the table for that."

In January, at the Broncos' end of season press conference, Elway underlined the team's need to become more competitive against Kansas City, which has won four consecutive division titles.

"One of the disappointing things about this year was how we played against the Chiefs," Elway said in late December. "... They're the team and obviously our goal every year is to win the West. They're the team that we're going to have to beat."

Slowing Kelce would certainly narrow the gap between the two teams, and both players say they're up for the task.

Could either of them show it for Denver next season?

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