This TU alum is worth the risk: NFL prospect Shane Simpson unlikely but versatile draft pick

By: Jordan Kendall, Senior Staff Writer 

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

Former Towson University (TU) football running back Shane Simpson is one of the prospects in the 2021 National Football League (NFL) Draft. This year’s draft goes from April 29-May 1. He is looking to become the first Tiger drafted since cornerback Tye Smith in 2015. I was lucky enough to cover his last two seasons at Towson, and I wanted to give my thoughts on what he’s capable of. I’m not a scout, but here is what I think of Simpson.

I think the best attribute Simpson has is his versatility. You can move him all around the field and he can still make plays. It doesn’t matter if he’s at running back, in the slot or returning kicks, he can make plays when he has the ball in his hands. In 2018, he was named to the All-Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) teams at three different positions, running back, kick returner and punt returner.

As someone who’s likely going to have to earn a roster spot on special teams, I think he’s the perfect candidate for this role. He returns both kicks and punts and, like on offense, can make big plays happen. I remember in 2018 when he returned the opening kickoff 96-yards for a touchdown against Stony Brook. Not every player is capable of that type of play, and I think Simpson should be considered one of them.

It’s becoming more popular for players to move around the field, but to have the level of success Simpson’s had at multiple positions is unique. He’s also good at catching out of the backfield either on screens or dump-offs in the flat. 

I wouldn’t consider him as athletic as Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey. However, I think Simpson reminds me a bit of him. Like Simpson, the Panthers move McCaffrey around the field, and he makes plays wherever he lines up. 

Simpson also does a good job of breaking tackles and making people miss. Simpson competed against New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley in high school. Barkley is a bigger back, and I would say is more explosive. However, I think Simpson is also similar to Barkley in how he can make people miss. Both seem to be effective in cutting and changing direction quickly. While Barkley is the bigger back, to a certain extent Simpson reminds me of him. 

I like Simpson’s versatility and ability to break tackles. However, he’s far from a perfect prospect, and there are reasons he will most likely go undrafted.

Sports Illustrated did a scouting report on Simpson, and I agree with most of the weaknesses they pointed out. One of their knocks on Simpson was his speed. I don’t think he’s a slow back by any means. I feel he has enough speed that once he’s in the clear it’s hard to catch him. However, the NFL is a different game from college, especially from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level. 

Players are bigger, faster, stronger and a lack of speed could hurt him in the NFL. He may have been able to go 50-yards against CAA defenses, but I don’t know if he’ll do the same against NFL secondaries. He can probably break off a big run, but I think there are NFL players who are fast enough to catch him.

They also pointed out his short arms and lack of ability to stiff arm. I feel that Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry has rejuvenated fan’s interest in someone who can throw a defender to the sidelines. Stiff arms are more important now than they were even five years ago. 

With that being said, I don’t think Simpson needs a stiff arm. If he can make people miss and break tackles without it, does it really matter how you break the tackle? I don’t feel that NFL running backs need to be able to do everything. If they can do a few things really well I think they can still succeed. 

Another weakness they mentioned was that he’s less effective as a blocker. While I agree it’s not one of his strengths, I feel he doesn’t necessarily need to be a good blocker in the NFL. His strength is when the ball is in his hands.

I would hope an NFL team would try to utilize his strength instead of exposing his weakness. If he’s not a good blocker, then bring him in for a screen or a check down. Maybe he isn’t a first or second down back, but I think he has value on third down or in the red zone. 

I personally believe the positives outweigh the negatives when it comes to Simpson. I think he provides value and depth as well as someone who can contribute on special teams day one. Simpson has met with at least nine NFL teams at this point, the first nine being at the Gridiron Showcase in January.

I believe Simpson has enough talent to play in the NFL. I also believe someone will give him a chance, most likely as an undrafted free agent. I will be interested to see where he lands, and hopefully, he’s able to make a name for himself at the next level. I enjoyed covering Simpson his last two years at Towson and wish him well in his next chapter.

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