It’s no secret that the Seattle Seahawks defensive line was one of the most destructive units in the NFL last season. According to the analysts at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Travis Jones’ (defensive line coach) group tallied 36 quarterback sacks, 63 quarterback hits, 179 quarterback hurries and an overall grade of plus-97.9.
All four sets of numbers are extremely impressive, but the one that jumps off the page is the plus-97.9 grade. Why? Because Seattle’s defense as a whole garnered a plus-163.9 regular-season grade, which means the defensive line accounted for 59.7 percent of the team’s overall grade.
Highest graded pass rush: 1. Seahawks 2. Titans 3. Rams 4. Lions 5. Dolphins 6. Texans 7. Bills 8. 49ers per @PFF— Benjamin Steefel (@NFLBen) January 26, 2014
That’s astonishing when you consider the Seahawks have a star-studded linebacking corps and a secondary that is viewed as the best defensive backfield in league.
Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean the Seahawks defensive line can afford to grow complacent. General manager John Schneider, Seattle’s coaching staff and the players on the defensive line have to make sure the 2014 season ends up being more successful than the 2013 season was.
The good news is that shouldn’t be a problem. In addition to re-signing defensive end Michael Bennett and defensive tackle Tony McDaniel, the Seahawks inked All-Pro defensive tackle Kevin Williams to a one-year deal.
According to Tom Pelissero of USA TODAY, Williams will earn $1.5 million ($500,000 guaranteed) in 2014. That’s a bargain-bin deal based on his past achievements and the immediate depth he will provide at the right defensive tackle position.
With that being said, let’s take a look at what Williams will bring to an already dominant defensive line.
Kevin Williams and Pete Carroll both indicated his role will be as a DT in base/run packages, but he also worked some as DT in nickel.— John Boyle (@johnpboyle) June 17, 2014
When one takes the time to break down the tape and review Williams’ statistics from the last couple years, it’s evident that the 311-pound behemoth is a better run defender than pass-rusher at this stage in his career.
Per PFF, Williams has amassed 32 defensive stops, nine tackles for loss, five stuffs and a plus-6.1 run defense grade over the course of the last two seasons.
Yes, he has had more eye-opening stretches against the run in his career, but keep this in mind: Williams will turn 34 in August, and he is embarking on the 12th year of his pro career.
Players of his size rarely last as long as he has, so it’s a miracle that Williams plays well enough to churn out positive performances week in and week out.
Here’s what Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller had to say about Williams’ run-stuffing ability when he evaluated him at the end of the 2013 season for B/R 1000:
He is not as strong of a run-stopper as he once was, but Kevin Williams (6’5”, 311 lbs, 11 seasons) continued to provide the Minnesota Vikings a solid interior defensive line presence this past season. He isn’t the most powerful defensive tackle, but Williams is good at fighting his way off blockers and sliding into position to make tackles.
Miller’s analysis is spot-on: Williams isn’t the same run-stopper he once was, but he’s reliable and versatile enough to play the 3-technique and nose tackle positions.
The fact that Williams learned to effectively play the nose last year could play a role into the way the Seahawks use him against the run in 2014.
On the surface, most would lobby to keep Williams at the 3-technique position because of his quickness off the ball, but think about who the Seahawks have as a backup nose tackle. That’s right, they don’t have anyone of true value behind Brandon Mebane.
And it’s not like Williams performed poorly at the nose in limited snaps last season. Former Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier showered Williams with praise after his first start (Week 10) at nose tackle versus the Washington Redskins.
“I’ll tell you, the way he played in that ballgame, it’s something we’ve got to consider [making Williams the starter at nose tackle],” Frazier said, via Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune. “We count on Letroy and Fred to do a good job for us there, but Kevin did some really good things.”
Indeed, Williams did do some really good things in his first start at nose tackle. By the time the clock had struck zero, the worn-out 33-year-old registered five defensive stops, one stuff and 2.5 quarterback sacks.
Williams’ solid showing may have been surprising to some, but not to Sam Monson of PFF.
Before the start of the season last year, Monson wrote a column about Minnesota’s options at nose tackle. Here’s what Monson said about Williams in his piece: "A move to NT for Williams would help disguise his lost step, allow quicker DTs on the roster to play in their natural position, and fill the void that Minnesota hasn’t been able to patch since Pat Williams retired all in one act."
The same thing that Monson said about Williams in Minnesota is true for him in Seattle. Since he is a step slow, he can back up Mebane while Jesse Williams and Jordan Hill back up McDaniel at the 3-technique position.
Obviously, playing a high snap count at nose tackle and working primarily as a run defender probably wasn’t something Williams had in mind when he took less money to come to the Pacific Northwest, but that’s the way things are shaking out so far, via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times.
Kevin Williams also met media and noted the faster pace of Seattle's practices. Role appears to be as early down run defender. ...— Bob Condotta (@bcondotta) June 17, 2014
Will Williams get a shot to work up the field and rush the passer? Head coach Pete Carroll didn’t make any guarantees when he spoke to the media on June 17, but he did say the Seahawks are still looking for their fourth interior pass-rusher. He added that Williams will have the opportunity to battle for that role, per Curtis Crabtree of Sports Radio KJR.
Carroll said they are still looking for their fourth pass rush spot along the interior. Said Kevin Williams will battle for that role too.— Curtis Crabtree (@Curtis_Crabtree) June 17, 2014
Even though no specific role has been exclusively carved out for Williams at minicamp, expect him to be manning the backup nose tackle position behind Mebane when the season starts.
Sure, he could also fill Red Bryant’s particular role on run downs, but at this point in his career, he will be most effective at the nose.
The Williams signing feels an awful lot like the McDaniel signing did in 2013. It was a low-risk, high-reward move that paid immediate dividends.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics via Pro Football Focus (subscription required).