While Harrell will have to prove he can play, and head coach Mike McCarthy and other assistants will have to try to bring Harrell's potential to life, defensive tackle Corey Williams stands in the way of the Packers' No. 1 rookie. Williams, 26, is coming off his best season and heads into this weekend's minicamp as one of the top two defensive tackles on Packers' roster (along with fellow starter Ryan Pickett).
Based on his performance a year ago, Williams should have no intentions of giving up his starting spot any time soon or see fewer snaps in the Packers' defensive line rotation heading into the 2007 season.
While Harrell's selection was not only a surprise to some because of the position he plays and where he was predicted to go in the draft, it was also a sign that the Packers may not be entirely sold on Williams. Thompson said he chose Harrell because the University of Tennessee defensive lineman was the best player available on the team's board, but he probably would have passed on Harrell if he thought Williams was the real deal.
If Williams continues to progress (and all signs point that way), there is no way the Packers can take him out of the lineup. He had a break-through season last year with 47 tackles and seven sacks in his first year as a starter and gave supreme effort. Only two other defensive tackles (Warren Sapp and Cory Redding) had more sacks than Williams and his tackle total put him among the most active interior lineman in the league.
Williams also has an intangible quality in his play that is comparable to teammate Aaron Kampman. He works hard, has gotten stronger, and has moved his way up the ranks in Green Bay since arriving as a sixth-round pick in 2004. If he has a weakness in his play, it may be against the run (which is supposed to be Harrell's strength), but his history and size (6-foot-4, 313 pounds) would suggest he will strengthen any deficiencies in that area.
That the Packers have not yet signed Williams to a contract extension (he will be a free agent following this season) is a mystery. They do have big money tied up with Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Kampman, Pickett, and Cullen Jenkins, but Williams deserves a long-term deal as much as any of them. They still have plenty of salary cap room left even after using some of it to re-work new deals for Jenkins, cornerback Al Harris, and linebacker Nick Barnett this off-season. The time to strike would appear to be now, but that nothing has yet to be done suggests the Packers might be undervaluing Williams and thus risk losing a good player next off-season.
The depth and talent along the Packers' defensive line is among the best in the league, so it might be easy to lose Williams among the mix. Maybe the number of players has skewed the team's evaluation of the position. Whatever the case, Williams could make Harrell a sour footnote in Packers' history by not even giving him a chance.
Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.