clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2015 NFL Draft: Leonard Williams isn't perfect, but he's close enough

New, comments

Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White sinks his teeth into the finest prospect available in this year's draft, USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams.

So you say you want to play quarterback, eh?

Bruuuuuuhhhhhhhh ...

Listen, I've been wanting to do this Leonard Williams post for over a month now, so fuck all the normal pleasantries. I watched Williams play against Fresno State, Arizona State, Cal and Nebraska. Those represented the first, fifth, 10th and 13th games, respectively. All videos via Draft Breakdown.

This guy is so fun to watch on tape, especially against the run. I mean the dude has to two-gap on most plays, meaning he lines up head up on the tackle or the guard, usually on the defense's left side. His mission, if he chooses to accept it, is to come off and engage with that blocker until he gets control of him. Then he still has to make the play if the ball is run in one of the gaps on either side of that blocker. That's why they call it "two-gapping" because Williams is responsible for two gaps on any given play.

And let's just say, not only did he choose to accept the mission, he fucking excelled at it!

Like, I don't know about you, but I just haven't seen very many college defensive linemen other than a few true nose tackles who could come off the ball in a two-gap defense and damn near always knock that offensive lineman back, control him and then shed him if the ball came to his side. Maybe Ndamukong Suh, but dassit. As a coach you would usually just be happy with a stalemate. It's damn near unheard of to consistently get push.

That is some next level two-gapping shit right there, and that's exactly what I saw Williams do over and over and over again in those four games.

Well, let me amend that.

One team, Fresno State in the first game of the year, decided to just cut him most of the game. I don't watch enough Fresno State football (i.e. none) to know whether that's just something the Bulldogs always do or if it was a special scheme to try to take Williams out of his game, but if they did that just because they were scared of Williams, then that's weak sauce.

Don't get me wrong, I get it.

Many, many times over the course of those four games Leonard Williams looked Paul Bunyanesque tossing cats all over the place as if they were literally rag dolls. So, I understand why an opposing coaching staff might be leery of blocking the guy straight up. However, I still think once you change up that much just to account for one guy (if that's what they did), you show your team you're scared of him. That's the last message you want to send because they're already going to have a tough enough time blocking him without giving them reason to think they should fear him.

Surely double-teaming him most of the game would have been a better move. And it didn't really matter much anyway because he certainly still found a way to make his presence felt.

As for everybody else who did try to block him straight up, yeah they got their asses kicked most of the time, too.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Hell, I actually started to feel sorry for a few of those right tackles because it just didn't even seem fair. You would think they'd get off the bus double-teaming Williams, but for whatever crazy reason those other three teams decided not to as well. That decision just did not work out well for any of them, and it damn sure didn't work out well for any of those right tackles. Oh, and a few right guards got the business too. Williams certainly didn't discriminate when it came to opening up a can of whup ass. He was an equal opportunity shit kicker!

I don't mean to harp so much on Williams' strength, but out of a bunch of great qualities this kid possesses, his strength is the most obvious one when you watch the tape. It was like going to a little league game and seeing that one kid whose birth certificate every opposing coach demands to see. It's not supposed to be as easy to jack offensive linemen up as Williams made it look.

It just isn't.

And the handful of times they threw a tight end out there to block him? Woooo shit, it got ugly fast!

If you are coaching these kids, you can't even grade them down on those plays. You can, but you would be a real asshole to ding a kid for not being able to block the Hulk.

I'm just sayin'.

The second most obvious thing about Williams' game is how good he is with his hands. If you have read my other reports, you know I'm a huge fan of guys having good technique. I am sometimes even more impressed with the guys who have been blessed with a lot of physical ability who also have good technique -- *cough* Vic Beasley *cough* -- because so many players these days will try to get by with just their natural tools alone instead of working hard honing their skills. To see Williams employing a rip or a swim move to escape off of blocks was super cool for the defensive line nerd in me.

Here is a dude who could definitely get by with just running over the opposition and still be a top prospect. Yet his technique was better than some guys I've seen who are much less gifted physically. To me, that shows he has the kind of work ethic you would want out of all of your players; getting good technique is something you have to work at. It never comes easy!

I would actually consider taking Leonard Williams in the top 10 just off his ability to play the run. Remember now, I'm the same guy who doesn't believe in drafting a true two-gapping nose tackle in the first round at all, but Williams is that dominant against the run, from different positions in all four games. I wouldn't even second-guess picking him that high in the draft just off that alone. My feeling would be if he is that damn good against the run, then we can coach him up to be a good pass rusher.

The fact that he is already a pretty good pass rusher in his own right would make him the consensus top pick in the draft most years. The only reason he more than likely won't be in the top two this year is because both teams currently scheduled to pick there A) need a franchise quarterback, and B) already have a hellafied interior defensive lineman (Gerald McCoy with the Bucs and Jurrell Casey with the Titans). Kinda sucks for Williams, but the good news is he shouldn't last much further than the third pick, no matter who picks there.

He fits in any defense and he makes pretty much any defense better. Williams is ideally suited as either a five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 or a three-technique defensive tackle in a 4-3. At 6'5 and just over 300 pounds, he literally could also play anywhere from left defensive end in a Seahawks-style four-man front to a zero nose tackle in a 3-4. A guy with the kind of power that Williams possesses who also uses his hands well is going to be a beyatch to block no matter where you put him anyway.

As a pass rusher, he also already has a signature move. He has this killer inside arm-over move that he won with a lot when he was lined up as a three-technique. I imagine some of it has to do with those guards setting for power considering how strong he is, so when they planted their feet in the ground, they were not prepared for him to cross their face. It's the details of the move that excite me as a fan. Williams stayed nice and compact with his arm-over motion, which protected him from being punched in the ribs. He was also super efficient with his inside hand, always finding a wrist or a forearm or an elbow or a shoulder on the offensive guards to make sure they weren't able to maintain contact with him once his outside arm completed the arm-over motion.

Several times he left those cats standing there at the line of scrimmage because they had no chance of recovering once he executed the move. That's a move that will transition well in the NFL, especially as he continues to work on it in practice.

While it's true that Williams "only" had 7.0 sacks on the season, I don't think that's reflective at all of the kind of pass rusher he will be on the NFL level. If the rest of the season went anything like the four games I saw, whether Williams actually got sacks or not, he probably got a ton of pressures in every contest. You have to understand that the majority of the time Williams was lined up in a position that was disadvantageous to a pass rusher.

Hell, ask any pass rusher and they will tell you that the worst place to start off as a rusher is head up on the guy no matter how bad he sucks. It's just about always easier to get past a blocker than it is to go through him, even for a guy like Williams who is as strong as an ox.

Even then, he still found a way to pressure the quarterback in every one of those four games.

I'm actually kind of hoping he goes to a 4-3 team precisely because I think if you give this kid an edge, there won't be many guards in the NFL who can handle him one-on-one. I can easily imagine him playing a role like Red Bryant in Jacksonville, where he plays strongside defensive end on run downs and then kicks inside next to Sen'derrick Marks to royally fuck up some interior offensive linemen. That would be kinda perfect.

I definitely think Williams will be ready to start on day one, but there are a few things he needs to work on. Number one is developing an outside pass rush move. While he's money with his bull rushes and his inside arm-over move, I do not trust Williams to win with any kind of finesse outside move. That's a problem because in the NFL everybody is big and strong as hell. A "speed" rush is necessary to get offensive linemen bailing out of their stances, whether they're guards or tackles. If there is no bail, then bull rushes as well as inside moves have a much lower chance at being successful. Williams did flash a few times with outside moves both at left defensive end and inside at defensive tackle, but he is going to have to be a lot more consistent with those moves on the next level.

Yeah, sometimes he plays a little high. Gotta say that the more I watched Williams -- this was another guy who I had already broken down some once and had to do all over again -- the more I didn't really give a shit about that. The reason is that I noticed he hardly ever got pushed off the ball more than a yard or so, if that. (I only counted twice in four games and both instances were double teams.) Plus, he didn't have any problem changing directions.

Those are usually the two major ways playing high (not the weed kind, the literal kind) negatively affects a defensive lineman. Yeah, he will definitely get coached up on playing lower in the pros, but you know what, if he can play nearly as well against the run in the NFL as he did last season at USC, his defensive line coach ain't gonna give that much of a shit either.

I'm just sayin'.

That's the extent of my major issues with Williams' game. There are other little things he can get better at, but the truth is if he develops a reliable outside pass rush move, he should end up being just as unfair on the next level as he was in college. I'm not going to repeat some of the hyperbole that has been thrown around about this kid (he isn't the next Reggie White. NOBODY is!). I will just say that I expect him to be an All-Pro within his first three seasons, provided he stays healthy.

It's hard to call anybody a "can't miss" prospect these days, but I would say Williams is about as close as we've come to it in recent memory. I wouldn't be surprised at all if he ended up being the best player in this draft no matter where he's selected.