Throughout the pre-draft process, Around The NFL's Conor Orr will be keeping tabs on a pair of prospects -- Northwestern State defensive tackle Deon Simon and Michigan State wideout Tony Lippett -- hoping to make a splash at the NFL Scouting Combine and secure their status as Day 1 draft selections. In Thursday's installment, Simon talks about the moments leading up to the combine that give the process a certain gravity for the first time.
It became real for Deon Simon before the Baylor game this season.
The 6-foot-4, 320-pound defensive tackle from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, started attracting scouts after a strong junior season. Size and speed naturally get your foot in the door even at a small school like Northwestern State. But in the weeks leading up to Simon's first game against an FBS opponent, the conversation began to shift away from natural gifts.
"I was getting asked questions about whether I could play up to that level," he said. "It raises me up real high. Those games we were really the underdogs and I wanted to be the one on my team to stand out."
The Demons ended up losing 70-6 in front of more than 40,000 people, dropping their overall record to 0-2. But Simon was almost single-handedly responsible for slowing down the Bears' rushing game. Scouts would end up pegging that moment, one bright spot in a horrific, schedule-driven blowout, as proof that Simon should be taken seriously.
His draft journey was unofficially underway.
Flash forward to January, just a few days before the NFL divisional playoffs, and Simon was in his agent's Indianapolis-based office for pre-combine preparation. Despite not being invited to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, Simon was handpicked for the scouting combine in Indianapolis where he hopes to have a Dontari Poe effect.
Back in 2012, the seldom-mentioned nose tackle from Memphis raised some eyebrows with 44 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press. Simon hit 41 in training and hopes the adrenaline will inch him closer. Poe is a comparison thrown his way often, as is Damon Harrison, the Jets' nose tackle who came out of William Penn University in Oskaloosa, Iowa, and ended up snatching a spot in the starting lineup over more established talent.
The meeting in Indianapolis had nothing to do with weights, though. Strategically, the combine is won and lost in a series of meetings each player has behind the scenes with general managers and personnel executives. Simon was there to get grilled by former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, an exercise that would prepare him for the oddball questions often hurled at players in order to test their composure. Each year, the agency, Exclusive Sports Group, pays Angelo as a consultant as part of their prep work.
"He's a nice guy," Simon said. "He gave us a ton of information, especially on what type of questions will be asked. Basically, the whole thing was about being straightforward. Some of the questions took me by surprise, but some I had a feel for. I already heard some of the scouts at my school ask me some of those questions. Basically, they want to know my background, whether or not I live with my mom or dad, what type of neighborhood I grew up in."
The most surprising ended up being questions about the love of the game. Simon prefers to keep quiet. He learned the virtue of a "Yes, sir," "No, sir" attitude from his mother a long time ago, but Angelo warned that dead air could translate poorly to the suits sitting across the table.
Angelo wanted to know if Simon really wanted to be here, in this chair, at this moment.
With the combine just a few weeks away, with everything he worked for starting to come together, there was only one correct answer.