Tyrone Shorter realized three years ago there would be a time when NFL teams and reporters covering the league would bombard him with interview requests about Jeffery Simmons and the defensive tackle's notorious act of violence against a woman.
"I knew all this was going to come back up," Shorter said April 17 by phone.
The Browns are among the teams that have called Shorter in the buildup to the draft, which will run Thursday through Saturday.
John Dorsey described Simmons as "a phenomenal football player" last week during a news conference, and the general manager has publicly defended the player's character throughout the pre-draft process. Dorsey explained the Browns hosted Simmons on a pre-draft visit the first week of April and talked about the red flag in his past.
The franchise's homework on Simmons didn't end there, either.
"Someone called me from Cleveland last week," Shorter said. "I can't remember who it was, I mean, because, to be honest, there have been a lot of teams that have called and emailed. I've talked to a lot of them."
Shorter became a father figure for Simmons while coaching the 2018 second-team All-American throughout his four years at Noxubee County High School in Macon, Miss. He had never heard about Simmons getting into any kind of trouble until March 24, 2016.
That's when Simmons, an 18-year-old high school senior at the time, stepped into a fight involving his mother, Brenda Bradley, sister Ashley Bradley and a woman named Sophia Taylor in a parking lot at their apartment complex. With Taylor on the ground, Simmons repeatedly punched her in the face and head. A video of the incident circulated online shortly thereafter. Simmons apologized in a Facebook post two days after he struck Taylor.
"I was shocked," Shorter said of his reaction when he saw the video.
The women who fought had a longstanding feud, Shorter said. In his Facebook apology, Simmons wrote "terrible" things were said about his deceased nephews during the altercation and explained "all I could think was this is my family and I am supposed to defend my family."
Simmons had been raised without his father in his life and considered himself "the man of the house" once his older brother, Dylan Bradley, left home to play football for the University of Southern Mississippi, Shorter said.
None of it justifies Simmons' actions. He pleaded no contest to a simple assault charge and was found guilty of malicious mischief.
He had signed with Mississippi State University as a prized recruit before the incident, and the school stuck with him despite facing public backlash. It suspended him for one game his freshman season and stipulated that he had to complete any program prescribed by licensed professionals at the university's student counseling services. Shorter said Simmons attended counseling and anger-management classes.
Scott Stricklin was the athletic director and Dan Mullen the head coach at Mississippi State when Simmons enrolled in June 2016. They now hold the same titles at the University of Florida and said through a member of the athletic communications department they would decline media interviews until a team drafts Simmons, who hasn't hired an agent but is being represented by his uncle, Jason Hatcher. A former NFL defensive lineman, Hatcher didn't respond to a message sent via social media.
The University of Alabama athletic communications department denied an interview request for associate head coach/defensive line coach Brian Baker, Simmons' position coach during his three seasons at Mississippi State. Alabama cited a policy coach Nick Saban adopted after working for the Browns and coach Bill Belichick that prohibits assistants from talking to the media.
Mississippi State's athletic communications department also declined to make coach Joe Moorhead or defensive coordinator Bob Shoop available for an interview, explaining its unwillingness to satisfy the several pre-draft requests it received from media members who cover the Browns.
Dorsey piqued Northeast Ohio's interest in Simmons last month at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix.
Questioned about Simmons hitting a woman, Dorsey said, "I think from your standpoint, what you should do is you should talk to the coaches and the support system at Starkville, Mississippi State, and just see what kind of man that guy really is."
Vouching for him
Bill Martin has been the associate athletic director/communications for Mississippi State since January 2014, so he was there when the school made its controversial decision to stand by Simmons. Martin said Simmons had no off-field incidents in college.
"Mississippi State did its due diligence on Jeffery Simmons' background, whether it was speaking to leaders in his community, his hometown, people who have gotten to know him over the years, and there was no history, nothing there that we saw at the time other than that one incident involving a family dispute, and he's taken ownership of that," Martin said Monday by phone.
"People deserve a second chance in life, especially a young man who is a senior in high school and growing up in Macon, Mississippi. We gave him that chance, and he has shined."
Shorter said Simmons believed the incident would cost him his college football career before it ever began.
"Everybody was saying, 'Take his scholarship. Don't bring him to Mississippi State. He's a monster, a woman-beater,' all that stuff," Shorter said. "But then when he got on campus, they saw that wasn't him, and then everybody fell in love with him at Mississippi State.
"He's not a monster that people want to say he is. He's a great guy. ... I'm telling you you'll think he's a great guy. I'll put my name behind that guy."
The league didn’t invite Simmons to the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this year because of the assault.
Shorter said he has tried to convince the Browns and other teams that Simmons, 6-foot-3¾ and 305 pounds, pummeling a woman was an aberration and not indicative of his character.
Shorter insists Simmons has learned from his transgression and matured. He points out Simmons is helping raise his infant son and remains involved with his hometown, church and former youth football program.
At Mississippi State, Simmons, 21, became a locker-room leader, visited children in hospitals, participated in other community events and twice made the SEC Academic Honor Roll, Martin said.
Because of the off-field baggage Simmons carries and the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in his left knee while training in February in Boca Raton, Florida, there's a slim chance he could slide out of Thursday's first round and into Friday's second round, where the Browns have the 49th overall pick.
"I guess it wouldn't shock me if he fell out of the first round, but I still believe he's going to wind up being a first-round pick," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said Monday during a conference call. "[Teams picking in the 20s are] going to wind up pulling the trigger 'cause they know that he is a better person than what the off-field issue represents, and they know that if he gets back to 100 percent, which almost everyone does from the [ACL] knee injury at this point with the medical advancements, that he's going to wind up being a huge steal."
The Browns don't have a first-round selection after trading it as part of the Odell Beckham Jr. deal, but Dorsey conceded last week he's considering moving from No. 49 and back into the opening round. It wouldn't be the least bit surprising if Simmons were Dorsey's target in a trade-up scenario.
Dorsey is known for taking on troubled, talented players, like, for instance, running back Kareem Hunt, whom the Browns signed Feb. 11 despite him being caught on security footage last year shoving and kicking a woman in downtown Cleveland. Simmons' surgically repaired knee will likely prevent him from playing until 2020, but the Browns have free-agent pick-up Sheldon Richardson to hold down the fort at defensive tackle.
Simmons appeared in 38 games with 28 starts at Mississippi State and consistently drew double-teams while compiling 163 tackles, including 32.5 for loss, seven sacks, five forced fumbles, seven pass breakups and three blocked kicks.
McShay said Simmons belongs in the mix with Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa, Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen, Louisiana State linebacker Devin White and Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver as the top talents in this year's class.
"Jeffery Simmons is one of the five best football players in the draft if you're just basing it purely off of game tape," McShay said.
Should Dorsey roll the dice on Simmons, Shorter and Martin are convinced the Browns won't be burned.
"I don't believe he'll slip back into doing anything bad," Shorter said. "I don't think he'll get into trouble because that's not his character."
"His entire three years here [at Mississippi State] he did everything the right way and more," Martin said, "and I'm 100 percent confident that that's what he's going to do at the next level. That's who he is."
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read his Browns coverage at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByNateUlrich and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.