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Saints free agency targets: John Simon is a pass rusher with value

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The dreaded franchise tag removed star pass rushers like Melvin Ingram, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Chandler Jones from the free agent market. Houston Texans defender and Ohio State alum John Simon may have the best value around.

HOUSTON, TX - Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) tries to evade Houston Texans pass rusher John Simon (51) before being sacked at NRG Stadium.
HOUSTON, TX - Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) tries to evade Houston Texans pass rusher John Simon (51) before being sacked at NRG Stadium.
Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

John Simon’s NFL career didn’t start out as planned. He was released in his second year after being drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, but was lucky to land on a talented Houston Texans defense. Simon quickly hit the field as a reserve linebacker before really finding his groove as a versatile member of the pass-rushing corps. He has played half the defensive snaps and recorded nine sacks through the last two years.

You would think Simon has benefited from being teammates with the likes of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, and others. To an extent he has, but don’t let that undersell Simon’s ability. He is a consistently disruptive force on the edge who finishes his pressures (four of his fourteen hits ended in sacks last year). Ironically, Simon has filled in for each of those guys at different points when they missed time to injury. This was highlighted recently by Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus:

Another player that has earned himself a starting role in limited play, Simon could be a more attractive option to teams given the relative dearth of proven pass-rushing talent that is scheduled to hit the open market. Simon was a significant part of Houston’s formidable defensive front last season but injury cost him the majority of the second half of his season. Over the first half of the year only the New England Patriots were able to blank him from a pass-rushing standpoint, and he had three games in which he recorded at least one sack, hit and hurry. Simon has been an impressive situational rusher for the past few seasons, but may have earned himself a shot to start for somebody in 2017.

Simon is also a good run defender. He knows how to anchor his lower body against blockers in space and turn inside to clog a lane and redirect the ball carrier. Simon also usually finds his way to the ball, averaging 50 tackles each in 2015 and 2016. He’s capable when asked to drop into coverage, but at his best when racing uphill and battling with offensive linemen. He has experience rushing with a hand in the ground or standing up over the left tackle’s outside shoulder.

Simon can play all over NFL defensive fronts and make an impact in all three phases of the game: pass rushing, run defense, and in coverage. He would both help the Saints’ depth issues at outside linebacker and beef up the pressure they can put on opposing quarterbacks. This is the same kind of smart signing that helped the Saints contend last year in the form of Craig Robertson and Nate Stupar. Without top-dollar options in the free agent market, the Saints would do better to add a mid-level veteran like Simon who can split time with a rookie draft pick like Derek Barnett.

At just 26-years old, Simon is a great fit for a Saints defense in need of help getting after quarterbacks. He shouldn’t command a big salary cap commitment, though playing a premier position and a weak market may help him. We also know how highly Saints head coach Sean Payton values Ohio State graduates.