Speedy Western Illinois' linebacker Jason Williams is speeding up draft boards.
Williams, who ran a 4.46 40-yard dash at Western Illinois' pro day and followed that with a 4.42 when he tested at Northwestern's pro day a week later, drew the Cleveland Browns interest at their Pro Day and seems to have the team's attention, including a visit to Berea, despite not being present at this year's Indianapolis combine.
In part because Western Illinois plays in the Football Championship Subdivision, which is a notch below the Bowl Championship Subdivision schools, Williams wasn't invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. It was a surprising snub for a player with Williams' resume, especially since he played so well against top prospects at the East-West all-star game.
Western Illinois' unique defense was centered on Williams' ability to run and make plays. As a senior, he finished second on the team in tackles with a team-high 17 for losses. He stuffed the stat sheet with six forced fumbles, eight passes defensed and four sacks in 11 games.
"It was a pretty unique defense," Williams explained. "That might be one of the reasons why I wasn't getting too much attention. A lot of guys didn't really judge me based on our scheme, because a lot of people didn't understand our scheme. It was kind of like an inverted 3-4. We had four linebackers out there. Instead of our linebackers playing on the outside, they were kind of inside. I played more like where D-tackles would be in a three-technique."
Williams' accomplishments aren't merely a byproduct of a funky scheme facing a lower level of competition. In Western Illinois' narrow loss at Arkansas, Williams was named the national player of the week after recording seven tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles.
Williams, a superb high school quarterback who started two games at safety as a redshirt freshman before settling in at linebacker, wound up leading the FCS in forced fumbles this past season and ended his career tied for the all-divisions record with 14.
"I got pretty good at it these past two years, but at first it was kind of a fluke thing," said the hard-hitting Williams, who forced three fumbles as a sophomore and five as a junior. "These past two years, I actually practiced at it. I love making tackles and I'll actually go for the strip."
While speed is the name of Williams' game — his 40 times are faster than any linebacker's from the Combine — it's not the only reason for his success. Coaches say he's an intelligent hard worker who is passionate about the game. He also is strong (28 reps on the 225-pound bench press) and has tremendous agility, which comes from gymnastics.
"Something I talked to the Packers about was my tumbling," he said. "It started when I was a kid (about 7). All of my friends in the neighborhood, my older brother, they all did, so I kind of followed suit. It was something all the kids in the neighborhood did, and I just got good at it since then."
Despite his on-the-field accomplishments, being a two-time All-American and one of four finalists for the Buck Buchanan Award given to the top defensive player in the FCS, Williams was not one of the 330 or so players invited to the Scouting Combine. That made his pro day workouts vital to warrant another look from scouts.
"Yeah, I'd say it definitely was important for me," he said. "At this point, I need everything I can to distance myself from everybody else. At least now I'm in the same conversation as some of the bigger names out there."
He's definitely on teams' radars now. According to his agent, Dave Butz, the trip to Green Bay is one of 11 that Williams has made recently. Insiders say he could go as early as the third round, and probably will be the first non-Combine participant to be selected.
"Teams are really stating the obvious," said Butz, the son of former Washington Redskins defensive tackle Dave Butz and the agent for the Packers' Nick Collins. "He's got the size. He's strong. He's faster and stronger than I think every other linebacker in this draft. Plus, he's intelligent and a good person off the field. He can play and he has really good football instincts. What's there not to like? Really, the only surprise is no one took notice of him earlier."
Western Illinois has six players currently in the NFL, including future Hall of Fame safety Rodney Harrison, starting Giants guard Rich Seubert and Saints running back Aaron Stecker, a Green Bay native. Williams, no doubt, will be the next.
"He can move and he can hit," Butz said. "You just can't find people like that with the whole package."