Jason Williams played four seasons — three as the team's starting outside linebacker — at Western Illinois. In his 42 games with the Leathernecks, he accumulated 289 tackles, 47 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, 12 passes defended, and one interception.
Despite the fact that he had a strong showing in the East-West Shrine game, he was not invited to the Combine and his first opportunity to work out for scouts and general managers was his Pro Day on March 3.
Western Illinois LB Jason Williams
AP Photo/Danny Johnston
He made the most of that opportunity and posted some extremely impressive numbers, running a 4.49 40 (albeit on a fast track indoors), registering a 39 inch vertical jump, and putting up 26 repetitions on the bench press. He bested that 40 number last week, working out at Northwestern's Pro Day. The 40 time would have been the fastest at the Combine, the bench press reps would have been in the top 10, and his vertical jump was two inches higher than No. 1 overall prospect and outside linebacker Aaron Curry, who had the best vertical jump at the Combine.
Granted, Western Illinois is a Division I FCS (formerly I-AA) school and Williams therefore faced a lower level of competition, where his athletic prowess and raw ability made more of a difference than it would have at the Division I FBS level, but the fact that he averaged a tackle for loss per game and a sack every three games is impressive.
For a 4-3 outside linebacker that doesn't always get a lot of chances to to blitz, that shows his pass rushing ability and the tackles for loss show his nose for the ball. And, while he only had one interception, he also broke up 12 passes, which shows that he's at least not a liability in coverage.
He's currently not ranked among the top 24 outside linebackers by Scout.com or in the top 307 overall prospects, but that is very likely to change over the course of the next few weeks, especially as teams continue to schedule private workouts with him. Indianapolis has such a workout scheduled, according to numerous sources, for March 23, which certainly shows their level of interest in Williams.
They will want to see how well he moves laterally, how well he moves in space, how quickly and well he backpedals from the line of scrimmage, and how well he moves on the surface of Lucas Oil Stadium in general. They obviously know that he can run and run well, but, in order to be successful in the Cover 2 scheme, a linebacker needs to be able to move quickly in all directions, so there's more to it than straight-line speed.
Prior to his workout and given the fact that he was not invited to the Combine, Williams would have been considered a fringe prospect, either with a seventh-round grade or a possible free agent. However, with the interest that the Colts — and several other teams — have shown in him, everyone is beginning to take notice and he could be drafted in the fourth or fifth round, possibly as early as the third, although he would really have to impress a team to be taken there.
He is actually a very similar player to Philip Wheeler, who Indianapolis drafted in the third round last season. He's 6-feet-3 and 241 pounds, runs very well, has tremendous athletic ability, and a great deal of upside as a pass rusher.
The issue for Williams, though, is that the Colts already have Wheeler on the roster and probably aren't looking to invest another selection — especially a third round selection — on a player that they basically already have.
The primary reason that Wheeler was taken in the third round last season and Williams will likely be taken in the fourth or fifth round is that Wheeler had experience and success against a higher level of competition and thus was more of a "sure thing" to pan out at the NFL level.
Since Indianapolis already has a very similar player already on the roster, they will probably wait until the sixth round and see if Williams is still available. Unless he really blows them away during his visit — or they end up with a compensatory selection in the fifth round — they have too many other needs to use even a fifth-round selection on Williams.
Everything could change after that workout, which will count as the second most important workout of his life. He's already passed one test with flying colors, though, so don't put it past him not to wow the Colts.
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