INDIANAPOLIS -- George Kittle: Pass-catchers want to be like him, defenders want to contain him.
Kittle, three years removed from taking part in the NFL Scouting Combine, is now a transcendent player with the 49ers. He has become a standard for players who aspire for pro football stardom on either side of the ball.
In the case of do-everything Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons, he sees his value in the NFL as a player who can be an antidote for the way Kittle can control a game. After all, Kittle is a force in the passing game or as a run-blocker.
Why do NFL defenses need players like Simmons?
“If you know who George Kittle and Travis Kelce are, then that explains it all,” Simmons said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Stopping tight ends, and linebackers playing man (coverage) on running backs.
“The game is no longer a 250-pound linebacker. It’s more guys that are able to run side to side and are able to cover. It’s just a necessity now with the tight ends and running backs.”
Simmons is a safety in a linebacker’s body. Or is he a linebacker in a defensive end’s body? Or is he something entirely different. When asked what position he plays, Simmons' standard answer is "defense."
“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 measured in at 6-foot-3 5/8, 238 pounds with a wingspan of 81 7/8 inches. He could be a top-five pick in the draft. What's certain is this: When Simmons and Kittle are playing in the same game for the first time, it will be as competitors. The 49ers' first pick is at No. 31 overall.
As a junior, before declaring for the NFL Draft, Simmons registered 104 tackles in 15 games with eight sacks, three interceptions, eight passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
He compares his game to that of Kansas City defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, who is more than 6 inches shorter and nearly 50 pounds lighter than Simmons.
“I know years ago it wasn’t good to be a positionless guy,” Simmons said. “But, now, it’s become a benefit for me just because of all the versatility. I’ll be able to do, play linebacker, play safety, whatever it is, I feel like it just helps me out.
“Mentally, I feel like there isn’t anything I can’t do. I played every position except for a nose or 3-technique. When it comes down to it, I’m going to try with my best ability to do everything I can.”
[RELATED: Five defensive players 49ers should watch at combine]
And that includes matching up with the top tight ends in the NFL -- the guys who are difficult for any other player at a standard position to defend. Kittle, for instance, is too fast for linebackers and too strong and aggressive for defensive backs. Even Randy Moss' son, Thaddeus, is identifying Kittle as the player he tries to emulate.
“The game is evolving so, the name of the game now is stopping tight ends,” Simmons said. “So something has to be done to stop these Travis Kelces and George Kittles out there.”
Kittle was voted the All-Pro tight end after his second consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season. He set the single-season NFL record for tight ends with 1,377 yards in 2018. Kelce registered his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019.