One of my favorite free agent signings that the Patriots made this draft season was tight end Bryce Williams out of East Carolina. A fun (and remarkable) fact about Williams is that he actually was a walk-on for two different college programs. Let's get to know a little bit more about Bryce.
Williams attended North Davidson High School in Lexington, NC where he earned All-Conference honors as a junior and a senior along with being the school's Offensive MVP in his last two years as well. He finished as the school's second all-time leader in receptions while also being named North Davidson's "Outstanding Male Athlete Award" for his proficiency in football, basketball, and track & field. Unfortunately, Williams did not receive any college scholarship offers and would actually be an invited walk-on athlete for Marshall University's football team.
Williams was redshirted his freshman season for the Fighting Herd. He chose to transfer to East Carolina following that season as a walk-on and earn a roster spot, but didn't get any playing time with the Pirates. In his third season (and second with East Carolina) however, Williams appeared in all 13 games for East Carolina, making one start along the way. He finished with 20 receptions, 220 yards, and five touchdowns. He was named an All-Conference USA Honorable Mention and given the "Most Improved Player" award at the team's end of season ceremonies.
In his fourth season, Williams appeared in all 14 games for East Carolina, starting five. He hauled in 18 receptions for 237 yards and four touchdowns while being named to the Second Team All-American Athletic Conference team. Going into his fifth and final season, Williams became the first East Carolina player ever named to the John Mackey (best tight end in college football) Award Preseason List, and lived up to the hype by having a terrific season with 58 receptions, 583 yards and four touchdowns. He was named a top 10 tight end prospect by WalterFootball.com & CBSSports.com along with being the third best tight end prospect for NFL.com's Bucky Brooks
Going into the draft, Williams was projected to go anywhere from late day two (third round) to late day three (sixth-seventh round) but instead went undrafted due to an uninspiring Senior Bowl and running a 4.94 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine. He is an exceptional pass catcher as he has long arms that help him reel in passes from everywhere, can catch in contested situations, can snag passes that are high, quick off the line of scrimmage, and will fight for extra yardage. He is not a bad blocker but will need to work on his blocking prowess at the next level and his route running. But Williams has the potential to be a terrific pass-catching tight end in the NFL in a few years with the right coaching and technical work.
He fits in well with New England, who is known for their two tight end sets and constantly shifting tight ends on and off the field. While Williams is an undrafted fre agent signing, he has the potential to make the 53 man roster for 2016 if he can show his receiving ability early. He could easily look at a #3/#4 tight end role for the team if he continues his solid production in the pass game and rapid improvement in his game overall. At worst, he could be a fringe 53 man roster player in 2016 destined for a spot on the practice squad, but don't be surprised if he pushes someone like Clay Harbor for positioning on the depth chart.