Why you might hear Jaylin Simpson's name next year at the NFL Draft
Zac Etheridge thinks the senior could be a "Sunday player" at his new position — and the numbers from late last season reflect it.
DB Jaylin Simpson (Declan Greene/Auburn Athletics)
Late last season, Jaylin Simpson lost a helmet and found a new position.
In one of the best stories that came out of a challenging 2022 season for Auburn football, Simpson’s helmet was stolen during a celebration in the student section after the Tigers’ emotional victory with Cadillac Williams over Texas A&M.
Simpson spent the following week on social media asking for the culprit to return his helmet. Most importantly, he wanted his favorite lime green mouthpiece — which he called “Slime Time” — back.
The helmet, along with a pylon from Jordan-Hare Stadium, was anonymously dropped off in front of the Auburn athletics building a couple of days before the Tigers’ next game against Western Kentucky.
Reunited with “Slime Time,” Simpson came down with an interception and recorded a team-high three pass breakups in a 41-17 win over a Hilltoppers team that finished the season with more passing yards than any other team in the FBS.
The interception was easy money for Simpson. Auburn dropped back into deep zone coverage against Western Kentucky’s Air Raid attack. The Hilltoppers’ quarterback tried to fit a ball between both Simpson and Nehemiah Pritchett, but Simpson was there to come down with the pick — his second in the span of three games.
And where Simpson lined up on the play was pretty important. After spending most of his career lining up opposite Pritchett at outside cornerback, he was on the same side of the field at safety.
The position change was prompted by injuries, as Donovan Kaufman was unable to play for the final month of the season. The Tigers were getting a lot of great play on the outside from D.J. James, so pushing Simpson back to safety looked like the smartest move.
“I'm very comfortable back there,” Simpson said after the win over Western Kentucky. “It has its pros and cons. I like it. It's fun. I can actually see — I can see stuff now. We’ve got good coaches that know they have a player they can use in other spots. They made a good decision by using me back there.”
Auburn soon overhauled its program by hiring Hugh Freeze and a new staff. Practically every position group on the field experienced some serious turnover via the transfer portal. The coaches quickly went to work in installing schemes that were very different from what the Tigers have played recently.
But the secondary, particularly toward the top of the depth chart, was a rare example of stability. Simpson, Pritchett, James, Kaufman and Zion Puckett were all back, along with the likes of Keionte Scott and young defensive backs Cayden Bridges and J.D. Rhym.
With Kaufman back in time for spring ball, would Simpson move back to outside cornerback?
Not a chance. Defensive backs coach Zac Etheridge — one of just two assistants who were retained by Freeze — sees a very bright future for the fifth-year senior.
This time next year, Etheridge says he can see Simpson getting taken in the 2024 NFL Draft as a safety.
“I think Simp has found himself a home,” Etheridge said this spring. “I think he's an elite player. If he holds on to everything that goes in football off the field, he can be a Sunday player. Just seeing his range, his athleticism, his ability to play man-to-man in the slot, the things that he can do, he can tackle well — his upside at that position is through the roof.
“If he embraces it and studies the game like he should, I think he'll be a Sunday pick.”