This year’s NFL draft class is incredibly deep, and one name that’s being tossed around quite a bit is that of USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams. Some have gone so far as to say that he is the best overall player in the draft, and he is the type of player that could make an immediate impact on whichever team drafts him, with minimal transition time.
Just where Williams ends up in the draft, however, remains to be seen.
Williams is for sure a top 5 pick, and if picked within that window will become the first defensive tackle selected there since Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy were taken second and third overall back in 2010. If a team needs an explosive pass rusher, Williams is their man.
That said, let’s analyze the man top to bottom and see just how well he can do in the NFL.
Like any great defensive lineman, Williams is blessed with tremendous size at 6-foot-5, 302 pounds. Despite being so big, he has a great burst off his feet and has unbelievable speed for someone at his position. In three years at USC, he notched 21 sacks and at the Combine, he ran the 40 yard dash in 4.97 seconds while also achieving the highest grade out of all the participants.
Williams also has great length up top, allowing him to use his hands to swat down passes and rip past blockers. On top of that, it allows him to wrap up quarterbacks and running backs with ease before bringing them to the ground for either a sack or tackle for a loss. His hands measured 10 5/8″ at the Combine, so fans have plenty to be excited about should their team draft him.
Even better is that Williams is incredibly versatile, showing ability to play any position on the line from nose tackle to defensive end. Just what he’ll play in the NFL depends on the system into which he is drafted, but his intelligence and overall athleticism will allow him to succeed.
For all his strengths, Williams does have some flaws. The most significant one is that after the snap, it takes him about half a second to get that burst. Granted, that isn’t a HUGE amount of time and it can be improved with coaching, but it’s still something that could hold him back in the pros. The NFL is highly different from the college game, and there will be little room for mental mistakes as he is put under the microscope from Day 1 as a rookie.
Williams also needs to improve on how he reads offenses. All too often, he’ll line up expecting a team to run only to see them pass and then flail about as he tries to get into pass-rusher mode. Again, something that can be cured with coaching, but also a warning sign that should be taken to heart.
Biggest of all is that Williams does not trust his hands nearly enough. They are such a great asset, and yet he insists on bursting forward and relying on brute strength alone instead of allowing himself to appear even more dominant.
Don’t get me wrong. Williams is a great talent with an incredibly bright NFL future, but he needs to reign in his weaknesses and become more focused than he already is. He’s a smart kid and will no doubt reel them in, but teams just need to remember to be patient with him. He isn’t going to blow the roof off the place in a day, but will surely do that or something similar by the time his rookie year is over.
Final Thoughts and Pro Comparison
The long and short of it is this. Leonard Williams, like any rookie, is going to have some kinks to work out. The good news is that they’re all manageable and won’t greatly deter him from having a successful NFL career. This young man is going to be a great overall defender and eye-popping pass rusher, so fans should be excited.
In terms of his pro comparison, there’s a lot to take in when watching him. His overall athleticism, his size, his explosive capabilities, the list goes on. Which NFL player has all of those and has also enjoyed a great amount of success?
Well, the one that comes to mind is 14-year NFL veteran and eight-time Pro Bowler Julius Peppers, currently of the Green Bay Packers. Yes, Peppers was a defensive end who made the transition to linebacker, something that Williams will never do, but the similarities are there.
Peppers is a phenomenal pass rusher, currently sitting 16th on the NFL’s all-time sacks list with 125.5, and he also has great hands in that he has 11 interceptions to his name. Peppers has also forced 43 fumbles in his career.
Oh, and did I mention that he’s 6-foot-7, 287 pounds and still playing?
Though the comparison is a bit unconventional, it’s hard to not look at both Williams and Peppers in his prime and see the similarities in spite of the different positions. The fact is that Leonard Williams is an explosive player with jaw-dropping skills, and fans of whichever team drafts him should be beyond satisfied with him on their roster.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports