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John Simpson breakdown: Film and stats on NY Jets’ new LG

John Simpson
John Simpson

What caliber of guard are the New York Jets getting in John Simpson?

At 12 p.m. ET on Monday, the opening of the NFL’s legal tampering period finally arrived after months of anticipation. New York Jets fans were ready for their Super Bowl. This is it – the one moment of the year where the Jets dominate.

Hour after hour went by, and the word “Jets” was never typed by Ian Rapoport, Adam Schefter, or Tom Pelissero. After more than 10 hours of fruitless refreshing, many Jets fans were preparing to go to bed – if they hadn’t already. Then, “The Late Show With Joe Douglas” kicked off.

At 10:43 p.m. ET, Douglas began a flurry of three signings in one hour. The barrage began with former Baltimore Ravens left guard John Simpson, who agreed on a two-year deal worth up to $18 million (“up to” being the key words – we haven’t officially heard full details yet). Simpson is expected to be the Jets’ starting left guard.

While Jets fans were thrilled to finally see signs of life from One Jets Drive, Simpson is not a name that most fans are familiar with. So, who is Simpson? And what can Jets fans expect to see from him on the field? Let’s find out by diving into his complete player profile.

Basic info

  • Age: 26.5
  • Height: 6-foot-4
  • Weight: 330 pounds
  • College: Clemson
  • Experience: 4 years (Drafted Round 4, Pick 109 by Las Vegas in 2020)
  • Teams: Raiders (2020-22), Ravens (2023)
  • Previous contract: 1 year, $1M (Signed with Ravens in January 2023)

Measurables

  • Data from 2020 Combine (via Mockdraftable)
  • Percentiles among all-time offensive line prospects

John-Simpson-40-Time-NY-Jets

  • Height: 6’4″ (32nd percentile)
  • Weight: 321 pounds (76th)
  • Arm length: 34.125in (72nd)
  • Hand size: 11.25in (98th)
  • 40-yard dash: 5.24s (53rd)
  • Vertical jump: 30in (73rd)
  • Broad jump: 107in (72nd)
  • 3-cone: 8.03s (22nd)
  • 20-yard shuttle: 4.87s (25th)
  • Bench press: 34 reps (93rd)

Smith carries a large, lengthy frame. He currently weighs 320 pounds (just one pound off from his draft cycle weight) and possesses long arms to go with mammoth hands. Athletically, Simpson possesses below-average short-area quickness and agility, while his long speed is mediocre. However, Simpson performed incredibly well in the explosiveness drill, especially for someone his size. He also crushed the bench press.

Overall, this profile paints the picture of someone who thrives on power rather than mobility, and as we’ll see when we get to the film section, his on-field play backs that up.

Role

Simpson began his career as a backup for the Raiders. He was a healthy scratch in nine of his 16 rookie-year games. Two of his seven appearances were starts, both coming at left guard.

Going into his second season, Simpson became the Raiders’ starting left guard. He started all 17 games at left guard for Las Vegas in 2021.

Simpson began 2022 in the same role but was benched after Week 2. For the next 12 games, Simpson was a backup, missing two games as a healthy scratch. Las Vegas waived Simpson on December 10, and he signed with Baltimore’s practice squad nine days later. He did not appear in any more games during the 2022 season.

In Baltimore, Simpson had an opportunity to compete for the starting left guard job against rookie sixth-round pick Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu. Simpson impressed the coaching staff and was declared the winner of the battle after the preseason.

“John’s going to be the starter, he’s earned that,” said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh after the team’s preseason finale. “John deserves it. He’s had a great camp. A vet, and physical. I love the way he played.”

Furthermore, Harbaugh added, “[Simpson] definitely seized the job. I was just proud of him, and I thought he just came to work every day and kept it simple. [He] made it about being the best player he could be day in and day out. He took coaching really well, and obviously, he’s a very talented player.”

Simpson would go on to start at left guard in all 17 regular season games and both playoff games for Baltimore.

2023 production

Good pass protection

Simpson comes to New York with a solid season of pass protection under his belt. In 2023, he allowed 27 total pressures on 644 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus. That’s a pressure rate of 4.2%, which ranked 21st out of 78 qualified guards (74th percentile).

Simpson faced a true pass set* on 43.2% of his pass-blocking snaps, which was identical to the league average for guards. In other words, there aren’t any worries about Baltimore’s scheme inflating his pass-blocking statistics (although it also wasn’t particularly difficult to make his numbers even more impressive).

*- True pass sets exclude plays with fewer than 4 rushers, play action, screens, short drop backs, and throws under 2 seconds

While Lamar Jackson’s elusiveness undoubtedly helps in this stat, Simpson did a good job of preventing costly pressures. Of his 27 allowed pressures, 21 were hurries. He allowed the quarterback to get knocked down just six times – five QB hits and one sack. His sack/hit rate of 0.93% ranked 20th among 78 qualified guards.

Too many penalties

Penalties are a key weakness for Simpson. He tied for the lead among guards with 11 penalties in the regular season. This includes eight flags for holding. He had another holding flag in the AFC Championship Game against Kansas City.

Run blocking: Metrics contrast with reputation

Most of the praise you’ll hear about Simpson is regarding his run blocking. Two-time Super Bowl champion Chris Long, for example, raved about Simpson’s physicality in the run game and shared a compilation of nasty run-blocking highlights.

PFF doesn’t seem to agree, as they rated Simpson with a 56.9 run-blocking grade in 2023, ranking 49th out of 78 qualified guards.

It’s up to the film to determine which side is closer to the truth. And after watching some film myself, there is one side that I lean strongly toward.

To get a preliminary feel for Simpson’s game, I watched three of his 2023 games against high-level competition – Javon Kinlaw’s 49ers, Aaron Donald’s Rams, and Jeffery Simmons’ Titans. I’m just going to tell you right now before we get into it… I came away much more impressed than I expected to be.

Wait until Joe Blewett’s full breakdown for the definitive scoop, but I loved what I saw during my first review of Simpson. I went into it prepared to clip any plays that stood out – good or bad – and I just kept clipping good plays. There simply weren’t many egregious mistakes worth pointing out in the (admittedly small) chunk of film that I watched.

2023 film

Simpson lines up at left guard and wears No. 76.

I was impressed with how Simpson handles stunts. Here, Javon Hargrave crosses Simpson up, as Simpson sets outside and Hargrave rushes inside. But Simpson is able to recover and pass Hargrave off to the center, Tyler Linderbaum. Simpson then gets back outside and picks up the looper on the stunt.

Simpson has noticeable power in the run game when blocking downhill. He teams up with Linderbaum to generate excellent vertical displacement on Hargrave, pushing him around five yards down the field.

I saw so many reps like this one, where he was forced to be on an island and shut his man down for an extremely long period of time. Going one-on-one against Hargrave, Simpson devours the bull rush, anchors down, and keeps Hargrave at bay for about five full seconds until Hargrave finally disengages. Simpson’s lower-body strength is impressive (as suggested by his broad and vertical jump) and it really shows up against bull rushes in pass protection. He has a strong anchor and uses it to stonewall bull rushes.

Now-teammate Javon Kinlaw attempts a swim move, but Simpson catches him in the chest with a two-hand punch mid-swim, thwarting the move.

Simpson held up surprisingly well against Aaron Donald. He engages quickly here and holds Donald off long enough for this quick pass to get out, although Donald does appear to get away at the last moment.

Here’s another good stunt pickup, and this one is super impressive. Simpson does a nice job of passing Donald off into the lap of his left tackle, and he does what he’s supposed to do as he turns back inside to pick up the looping defender. In the process, however, notice how Simpson keeps his left hand on Donald to feel him out. Simpson feels that Donald is beating the left tackle inside, so he comes off his man and gets back outside to help on Donald. Simpson walls him off and prevents him from getting close to Jackson.

I thought the explosiveness displayed by Simpson on his broad and vertical jumps showed up the most when he was used as a puller in the run game. The Ravens asked him to do it often in their heavy gap-blocking run scheme, and for good reason. Look how he explodes out of his stances and fires to the edge. Simpson meets the edge defender and displaces him a couple of yards to the outside.

This is the play that made me go, “Okay, I think I’m going to be one of this guy’s biggest fans.” This is one of those low-key monumental plays that nobody in the stadium or on the broadcast noticed when it happened, but stands out to film junkies as downright vital to the outcome of a highlight-reel play.

Simpson draws a one-on-one with zero help against Donald and holds him off for nearly four full seconds to keep Jackson clean, leading to a 46-yard touchdown pass to Odell Beckham Jr. This is impressive enough on its own, but watch Simpson’s left foot – it appears as if Simpson was stepped on by his left tackle, and yet, he still won the battle.

The most impressive part of the rep comes late – watch how Donald tries to beat Simpson inside with a rip move to get in Jackson’s face. If successful, this likely would have deterred the eventual touchdown pass. But Simpson uses tremendous upper-body strength (as suggested by his elite bench press) to wrench Donald back outside and shut down the rip move. After this, Simpson anchors down mere inches away from Jackson, thwarting Donald just in time for Jackson to remain clean and get the pass off.

Enormous play by Simpson against the greatest DT of all time to set up a home-run play. He got none of the attention for it, but he may have been the most vital cog in it.

I’m loving these stunt pickups. Anyone who has watched Jets film closely over the past few years knows that the mishandling of stunts is one of the main reasons the offensive line has looked so messy. The Jets have looked completely discombobulated against these. But Simpson continuously impressed me with his handling of them. Here, he smoothly passes his man off to the left tackle and gets right back inside to meet the looper.

We’re going to close out with some bad plays, all of which showcase the most common issue I noticed: his hand placement. Simpson’s hands often come in too high or wide – he even did it on some of the good plays seen above and got away with it – but it usually leads to his losses. Here, Simpson punches a little too high on Donald and is unable to establish a firm grip, allowing Donald to squeak through with the rip.

Simpson’s hands are too late and wide, allowing Jeffery Simmons to quickly get his hands into Simpson’s chest and establish a strong bull rush. It’s actually another display of Simpson’s strong anchor that he manages to somewhat hold Simmons off rather than getting completely pancaked, but nonetheless, this is a win for Simmons as he slides Simpson back and gets into Jackson’s face for the pressure.


Simpson steps to the play side to block Simmons on this inside zone, but again Simmons gets strong first contact as Simpson’s hands are wide and late. Simmons sheds Simpson and gets in on the tackle.

Same problem again. Simpson takes on the edge rusher crashing down inside and is easily beaten with a club-rip move as his wide punch makes little-to-no meaningful contact on the defender. Quick pressure directly in Jackson’s face. On a side note, it stands to reason that Simpson’s wide hands are probably a major contributor to his propensity for holding penalties.

Overall, I was relatively impressed by Simpson’s film compared to expectations. I want to watch more of him to form a definitive opinion, but there are a few things I feel comfortable putting out there.

The overall strength to his game is a major plus – both lower and upper-body strength. It translates to a firm anchor in pass protection and good downhill power in the run game. I think PFF underrated his run blocking performance. I also loved his awareness against stunts and the tenacity in his game.

On the downside, Simpson needs a lot of work on his hand placement. I also thought his general athleticism was mediocre at best, particularly in terms of agility/short-area quickness. I wonder how that will translate into an offense that figures to run plenty of wide zone. The Ravens rarely ran wide zone in the games I watched, so it was difficult to get a read on how he might perform in a heavier zone scheme. Penalties are also a problem.

Comparing 2023 performance to previous track record

Simpson’s 2023 season was a breakout year. He was a new player compared to his first three seasons.

In 2022, he was benched after two games. When he started 17 games in 2021, Simpson allowed 37 total pressures with a 5.2% pressure rate, including three sacks allowed.

Simpson will have to prove his 2023 season was a sign of things to come rather than an outlier. Fortunately, he’s only 26 (going on 27 in August) and it was his fourth season, so it would be a perfectly normal career arc if 2023 represented the start of his prime. We’re not talking about a 29 or 30-year-old who was mediocre for six or seven seasons before randomly breaking out. There’s a good chance that Simpson is hitting his prime and will maintain his 2023 performance going forward.

The one constant in Simpson’s game is his penalty proneness. This has always been an issue. For his career, he has committed 27 penalties on 2,663 offensive snaps, or about 10 every 1,000 snaps. That’s about the same as his 2023 average (9.8).

Scheme fit

Scheme fit is one of my main questions. Simpson – a bigger guard who is known more for his power than his mobility – is coming to New York after a breakout season in Baltimore’s gap-heavy scheme. Not only that, but it’s a particularly unique offense because of the quarterback’s involvement in the run game. The Ravens do a lot of things in the run game that the Jets aren’t going to do often, if ever. It’s a downhill, power-based rushing attack.

According to PFF, Simpson ranked 15th out of 64 qualified guards with a 47.5% gap-blocking rate in 2023. For comparison, the Jets’ left guard (who played every offensive snap), Laken Tomlinson, placed 28th at 38.3%.

That’s not as huge of a difference as I expected to see, but PFF doesn’t distinguish inside zone from outside or wide zone, and these concepts are drastically different. I think most of the plays that got charted as zone plays for Simpson were inside zone based on what I watched. Wide zone was rare, and the Jets did run quite a bit of it last year.

Now, to be clear, the Jets were not a heavy wide-zone team last year. They were fairly balanced in the run game, calling a little bit of everything, as evidenced by Tomlinson’s middle-of-the-pack gap rate.

But I wonder if that will continue going forward. Nathaniel Hackett’s teams have typically leaned heavily on wide zone. That was the case during his time as the head coach in Denver and as the offensive coordinator in Green Bay. Will the Jets go back to that with a healthy Aaron Rodgers? Or was their balanced run scheme in 2023 what they had planned even if Rodgers stayed healthy? Only time will tell, although the signing of Simpson points to the continuation of a balanced run scheme that features both gap and zone concepts.

Durability

Simpson has never missed a game due to injury. He’s only played 52 out of 67 possible games in his career, but all of his missed games were as a healthy scratch.

Cost

We are still waiting to hear more specifics on Simpson’s contract. For now, it’s a two-year deal worth “up to” $18 million, which means the actual total (without incentives) is probably a few million lower. In a market where plenty of guards with league-average production received far more handsome contracts (Jonah Jackson for 3/51, Damien Lewis for 4/53), I see that as a bargain for the Jets.

The verdict

I was uninspired by this signing when the news dropped. I had not researched Simpson in-depth and pretty much wrote him off as a replacement-level option from the basic information I had skimmed over when identifying potential offensive line targets for the Jets.

Upon researching Simpson more thoroughly, I am beginning to believe this is a strong signing for New York. They have filled one of their starting guard spots with an affordable, young, durable player who is coming off a season where, based on the numbers and film, he was a slightly above-average starting guard, in my opinion – especially in pass protection.

I am slightly concerned about Simpson’s run-game scheme fit and whether he can maintain his overall improvement in 2023. For the price, though, I think he is a worthwhile gamble. His pass protection should translate with no issues, and pass protection is the Jets’ main concern with a 40-year-old under center.

This is a savvy pickup to fill one of the Jets’ three offensive line holes. With 60% of the starting lineup unfilled, they were not going to fill every hole with a superstar. They needed to go about it in an economical fashion, and Simpson is an ideal player to pull that off. He is an affordable pickup who still offers starter-caliber ability – the Jets didn’t settle on a scrub just to save money.

The affordability of the Simpson signing should allow the Jets to continue attacking the offensive line aggressively. Tyron Smith is still out there, as is Simpson’s Ravens teammate, Kevin Zeitler.

I think Jets fans should be happy about the Simpson signing. Based on what I’ve gathered, I think he has a reasonable chance of out-performing his contract and becoming a tremendous value pickup. At the very least, he appears to have strong odds of giving the Jets what they paid for: an average starting guard for an affordable price.

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Jets71
Jets71
2 months ago

Great breakdown, and this looks like a quality signing at this point. I also think maybe they are planning on some more “gap” runs next season. I go back to Saleh’s Hard Knocks challenge to the OL, where he basically said, it’s time we start to push some people around. They need to be more physical up front.

Side note…we now have a new phenomenon with fans and “talking heads” …”Reacting to the New York Jets DISHEARTENING lack of moves on Day 1 of Free Agency!” Really? This is where we are at? Teams need to sign players the first 10 mins of “legal tampering?” It’s too much…how about we TAMPER down the obnoxious takes?

mlesko73
mlesko73
2 months ago
Reply to  Jets71

I agree about the “sky is falling” phenomenon that takes place with media and fans alike.
What I saw on Day 1 was some gross over-pays (see Barkley and Hunt).
Our line, presuming we draft a LT, would be Draftee-Simpson, Tipp-AVT-Moses.
I don’t love relying on a rookie LT, but it’s a major upgrade over the likes of Tomlinson, Mitchell etc
Now we need a WR2

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