CHICAGO — The chance of USC defensive end Leonard Williams falling to the Redskins in Thursday’s NFL Draft appears remote.
It would likely take both quarterbacks – Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota – going with the first two picks and then Jacksonville and Oakland deciding that Florida outside linebacker Dante Fowler or both top wide receivers – West Virginia’s Kevin White and Alabama’s Amari Cooper – are better options.
“[Williams] might not be as sexy as either of the two wide receivers or maybe even a Dante Fowler,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said.
But in the next breath Mayock gushed about what Williams, a versatile, 6-foot-5, 302-pound giant, can bring to a defense by playing four or five different positions. It’s why Washington has done its due diligence on Williams, even bringing him in for a visit to Redskins Park. He might not slip to them. But they’re ready just in case.
The names brought up in trying to find comparable players are extreme: J.J. Watt, Richard Seymour, Ndamukong Suh. Williams may not reach that level. There are still questions. But he’s talented enough, and versatile enough, that you still can’t completely disregard Williams going with the first pick.
“I think [Williams] is the best player in the draft,” NFL analyst Mel Kiper said.
ESPN analyst Bill Polian thinks Williams could play 5-technique for a 3-4 team. Other see Williams as a 3-technique in a 4-3 defense. He is certainly strong enough to rush the quarterback from the inside and would be a disruptive force playing the 3-technique when his team goes into nickel packages.
Williams had seven sacks at USC last season, but that’s not necessarily how he will be judged in the NFL. It won’t be his primary job the way it is for purer pass rushers on the outside like Shane Ray, Randy Gregory or Dante Fowler. Production is important. But analysts say there are other ways to impact a game.
“People talk about sacks. Well, he’s not gonna be a great pass rusher off the edge,” Kiper said. “But there’s ways to be a really good, effective pass rusher [than] just getting sacks. You can get a sack a game and be a mediocre player who is destroyed against the run and isn’t disruptive. Sack total to me is very overrated. It’s how disruptive you are on a play-by-play basis.”
Still, Williams’ physical gifts are so pronounced that some NFL scouts worry he should be that dominating force Kiper talks about far more often than he was at USC. There is game tape where he doesn’t look like a Suh or a Watt. But those comparisons are probably unfair for even the best player in a given draft. Williams can still be a worthwhile top 5 pick even if he falls short of those lofty players.
“Sitting up there at the top people are going to find something wrong with you,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “I saw a bunch of stuff about how [Williams] played at Stanford and the offensive line is supposed to be so good and he didn’t play as well. He had a high ankle sprain in practice that week, he came out for warm-ups, comes off the field, not supposed to play and goes out there and guts it out and plays on a bad wheel and played fine. He wasn’t explosive because he’s on one leg, but when you have watched him over two years and you’ve studied him, the guy can do anything you want him to do.”
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