AnalysisWilliams is the top prospect in this draft. He’s a fit into any front, can play tackle, end and even over the center. This former high profiled four-star recruit from the Sunshine State started 35 of 39 games at USC, where he racked up 21 sacks and 36.5 tackles for a loss. Williams is strong, quick and fast. He has violent hands and shows rare explosion for a 300-pound defensive lineman. Many compare his style and game to that of Richard Seymour.
Dave-Te' Thomas Player Evaluation
Are you kidding me? The Big Cat, Leonard Williams, slides to the Jets at No. 6? Wow. Truly incredible luck for New York. Williams is the top prospect in this draft. He’s a fit into any front, can play tackle, end and even over the center. This former high profiled four-star recruit from the Sunshine State started 35 of 39 games at USC, where he racked up 21 sacks and 36.5 tackles for a loss. Williams is strong, quick and fast. He has violent hands and shows rare explosion for a 300-pound defensive lineman. Many compare his style and game to that of Richard Seymour. He’s ideal as a DE in a 3-4 scheme and new Jets coach Todd Bowles will have so much fun moving him around and creating havoc. Williams becomes the 78th Trojan to be a first round draft pick, a record among the college programs.
There are going to be quite a few All-American selectors that will look a bit foolish when the first player taken in the 2015 draft’s profile reads only four organizations (The NFL Draft Report, FWAA, ESPN and Lindy’s) according him rightful first-team honors. They were the same group that named him to their respective first-teams in 2013, making Leonard Williams the first USC defensive end since defensive end since Marlin McKeever (1959-60) to receive that honor.
His value to the team goes way beyond 80 tackles (second on the team), seven sacks, 9.5 stops-for-loss and three forced fumbles, as he was often the subject of double-teaming by his opponents. Through 35 starting assignments, he’s produced 218 tackles, 21 sacks and 36.5 stops-for-loss while forcing five fumbles and recovering two others.
USC has produced more first round picks (77) than any other school (Ohio State is second with 71) and in Williams, the Trojans perhaps have the finest down lineman the school has produced since the 1990s (Willie McGinest was the fourth overall selection by New England in 1994 and Darrell Russell was the 1997 second overall pick by Oakland).
A Richard Seymour clone, Williams has the speed to penetrate coming off the edge and with a 500-pound bench press, big hands and long arms, he is a nightmare for offensive tackles in one-on-one confrontations. He generates very good quickness and explosion off the ball, along with active hands to consistently gain block separation. He shows quick counter moves and has more than enough lower body strength and leg drive to get opponents off-balance when he’s shooting the gaps.
While Williams will not win too many races with a stopwatch timing him, he has good quickness off the snap, especially if the quarterback doesn't change up his cadence, but does not have that elite first step to simply explode past blockers. What he does best is attack his man and pop into the blocker’s jersey, quickly recoiling. He’s also what we refer to as “field fast,” as he has enough functional burst to be an interior pass-rush threat and maintain the corner as a 3-4 defensive end, or as a weak-side tackle in a 4-3 base alignment.
As a 4-3 system defensive tackle, Williams displays a strong bull rush, pushing the pocket consistently whether he is isolated in a one-on-one battle or when encountering double-team activity. You can see how well he uses his big mitts and quick arm swipes to generate a forceful rip move that will knock the blocker off-balance. With his upper-body strength and hands, he compensates for a lack of great speed, as he consistently frees himself to make a play.
Williams is also consistent anchoring vs. the run, especially in goal-line situations, as he does a great job of getting low enough to clog the rush lanes and push the lead blocker back. He’s very athletic for his size, looking like a second-level defender for the way he is able to change directions and break down and explode into the ball carrier. He wraps well with his long, strong arms, and runners find it very tough to escape his grasp when he grabs on (made several one-arm tackles last year, but I suspect that it was more so to compensate for his shoulder issues).
Williams gives 100% effort, as he hustles downfield on short throws and shows good urgency chasing down the line. His low center of gravity helps, as most of his strength is in the lower body. He has some of the biggest and strongest hands in this draft class (10 5/8-inches), showing good technique in driving into his blocker, disengaging from the initial block and working down the line of scrimmage when the ball is away.
As a pass rusher, Williams can get around most interior linemen. On the edge he has the speed and agility to get by tackles and make a play on the backfield. He constantly works forward until the ball is out of the quarterback's hand. He uses those strong, active hands to jerk his man aside and keep blockers off-balance. He also has nimble feet, doing a nice job when spinning off single blocks and is quick enough to get into the pocket.
Williams is dominant in attempts to split double-teams and always seems to manage to find a way to get his long arms and big hands in the quarterback's face. He is a smart player who recognizes screens quickly and comes off his initial rush move to get to the ball or the sideline. He also displays g\Good awareness to get his hands up in passing lane to knock down passes. He even shows decent hands for the interception, especially given his size.
While teams still have not come to a consensus of where he might play in the NFL, I feel his better prospects remain as a 4-3 defensive tackle. He just seems to be a huge load to move off the ball by even the best center-guard tandems. He has the size and excellent backfield awareness to locate the ball in a crowd and does a really nice job of holding the blocker up and spin off to make plays on the ball.
Williams also displays excellent footwork moving down the line on stretch plays, and will get off of blocks or explode through the line to make the tackle. His pad level remains consistently low and it is rare to see him start off the snap too high or lose his anchor. With his large wingspan (82 5/8-inches) and long arms (34 5/8-inches), he does a nice job protecting his feet vs. the cut block. He is also the type that will hustle to be supportive in the pile to finish plays.
Williams is still undergoing his “growth” spurt (entered school at 270 three years ago and is now 302). He seems to steadily increase his size, conditioning and stamina and is the type who is capable of playing every down. He is just too difficult for smaller tackles to handle one-on-one playing on the edge as an end in a 3-4 defensive scheme (because of his strength and athleticism).
He is the type that can play some in the second level in passing situations. He’s even dropped into coverage at times and shows surprising agility and awareness. One possible red flag is his continued right shoulder issues. He had surgery after playing with the injury in 2013, but admitted after his recent bowl appearance that his shoulder still had issues. Then, at The Scouting Combine, he did not lift, citing the right shoulder as the reason.
Leonard Williams NFL Scouting Combine measurables
6-5/302 (4.97 forty)
34 5/8-inch arm length
10 5/8-inch hands
29.5-inch vertical jump
106-inch broad jump
7.59 3 cone drill
4.53 20 yard shuttle
Dave-Te’ Thomas is a sports writer, talent evaluator and scouting personnel consultant for a majority of teams in the National Football League. Thomas runs a scouting information service called NFL Scouting Services and produces THE NFL Draft Report, a publication provided by league headquarters to the media in preparation for the NFL Draft.
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