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Clemson's Simmons forgoes final season, declares for NFL draft

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Coach Dabo Swinney consoles Isaiah Simmons after Clemson's loss to LSU in the College Football Playoff national championship at the Superdome in New Orleans on Jan. 13. Andrew J. Whitaker/ Staff

CLEMSON — Isaiah Simmons on Saturday evening announced on Twitter he will forgo his final season of college eligibility and declare for the 2020 NFL draft. Simmons is projected as an early first-round selection. 

Simmons earned the 2019 Butkus Award, which is given annually to the top linebacker in the nation. He finished the campaign with 67 tackles, seven sacks, three interceptions and one forced fumble. 

He recorded seven tackles, two pass deflections and one sack in Clemson's 42-25 loss to LSU in the College Football Playoff national championship Monday.

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, the Heisman Trophy winner, threw for 463 yards and five touchdowns, but Clemson held him to his lowest completion percentage of the season (31-for-49) in large part to Simmons's effectiveness in the pass rush.

"While I am incredibly excited about the opportunities and challenges that await me, please know that a part of my heart will always remain here in Clemson, South Carolina," Simmons wrote. 

Simmons had an opportunity to leave Clemson for the NFL after last season but elected to return to a defense losing a cadre of stars on the defensive line. 

He helped lead the Tigers' defense to a historic season. Clemson held all 12 of its regular season opponents to fewer than 300 yards, and it finished with the nation's sixth-ranked defense.

Simmons joins cornerback A.J. Terrell and wide receiver Tee Higgins in departing early for the draft. Running back Travis Etienne on Friday defied expectations and announced he'd be returning to Clemson for his senior season. 

Simmons' departure means the Tigers will have two new starting linebackers next season; only redshirt junior James Skalski returns from a group that also included redshirt senior Chad Smith.

Follow Joshua Needelman on Twitter at @joshneedelman.

Joshua Needelman covers Clemson for The Post and Courier. He's a Long Island, N.Y., native and a University of Maryland graduate.

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