When the Seattle Seahawks drafted defensive tackle Jesse Williams with the 137th pick in the 2013 NFL draft, pundits proclaimed that general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll stole the 325-pound monster out of Alabama.
In fact, Chris Burke of SI.com pegged Williams as one of the 10 biggest steals in last-year’s draft:
Williams suffered a knee injury back in the SEC title game, and the lingering effects of that ailment drove him down the board. The rest of the league's loss is Seattle's gain. Many people (including yours truly) thought the 49ers might take Williams at No. 34 overall; Seattle nabbed the big, athletic lineman more than 100 picks later.
On the surface, Burke was right. The rest of the league’s loss was Seattle’s gain. But behind closed doors, there was concern from Coach Carroll that Williams was possibly done, via Todd Dybas of The News Tribune.
Considering Williams’ injury history at Alabama, Carroll’s comments from Dybas’ article shouldn’t come as a surprise. Why? Because Williams had knee surgery in 2011 and an arthroscopic procedure after the national championship game in 2012.
Moreover, Williams went to the combine shorty after his 2012 procedure and then to rookie minicamp following the combine. All things considered, it’s evident that his knee didn’t get much of a break.
This, in turn, meant that it never had the proper time to heal, which subsequently led to his eventual placement on injured reserve.
The good news is that Carroll said Williams is back at full speed, via Dybas of The News Tribune: “He had a tremendous offseason. His rehab work was great. He worked every day. He’s ready to get in the middle of it.”
Based on Carroll’s glowing praise and Williams’ clean bill of health, it’s safe to say "Tha Monstar” can make an instant impact in the Seahawks defense after a redshirt season.
Obviously, Williams will have plenty of competition at the defensive tackle position with Kevin Williams, Jordan Hill and Tony McDaniel all vying for playing time as well, but his skill set is a perfect marriage for defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s defense.
Despite playing the nose in Nick Saban’s 3-4 defense, Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com believes Williams has the size and versatility to work at either the 5-technique end spot or 3-technique tackle position.
Let’s not forget, the 5-technique spot is wide open heading into training camp thanks to defensive end Red Bryant’s departure, so it looks like Williams will battle with veteran defensive end Michael Bennett and rookie defensive end Cassius Marsh for meaningful snaps on early run downs.
Coincidentally, Williams’ bread and butter at Alabama was stopping the run. This could ultimately give him a leg up on the competition since the 5-technique in Seattle’s defense needs a player that can play the run effectively.
Here’s what the folks over at NEPatriotsDraft.com had to say about Williams’ ability against the run after his senior season:
Comes off the ball with quickness and power, able to push the pocket and maintain his gap responsibility. When lined up in a shade technique, he does a good job to keep his outside half free and is able to come off the block to clog the hole. Game is built around power, doesn’t get pushed off the line and can anchor very well against double/triple teams. Has experience playing 5-tech and showed he can set the hard edge. Hand use has gotten better, gets good extension in his arms and uses powerful upper body to toss OL aside. Has a good feel for where blockers are coming from and prepares himself to take them on and get off of them.
Notice how they specifically mentioned Williams’ experience at the 5-technique position. Even though his playing time at end was limited in college, he did have a good track record when he lined up on the outside.
As far as Williams’ pass-rush ability goes at the 5-technique position, he won’t have to be a top-notch pass-rusher; Seattle’s defensive scheme doesn’t require it, and rushing the passer isn’t his forte.
Per Eric Stoner of Bleacher Report: “Williams’ main contributions as a pass-rusher comes in overpowering his man and collapsing the quarterback’s inside space. He does not have a set of moves to rely on and instead tries to get under his man and bull rush him.”
Williams’ pass-rushing ability sounds a lot like Bryant’s. Here was Matt Miller’s take on Bryant as a pass-rusher when he evaluated him at the end of the 2013 season for B/R 1000:
He doesn’t have an explosive burst, has poor speed for the position and lacks effective pass-rushing moves. He can occasionally win with power as a bull-rusher, but he is best suited not to play on passing downs.
While Farnsworth of Seahawks.com might view Williams as a potential 3-technique, it’s clear that the Australian native is best suited to play the 5-technique end position.
Sure, there is an outside chance that Williams could eventually develop into a rotational rusher at the 3-technique position, but Seahawks fans shouldn’t hold their breath.
Seattle’s defense calls for the 3-technique player to be a premier pass-rusher because he is going to get a lot of one-on-one blocks on the inside.
Additionally, when you examine Seattle’s depth at defensive tackle, one could easily say the Kevin Williams, Hill and McDaniel are all better pass-rushers than Williams.
Unsurprisingly, those three players are all considered true 3-technique players who rush the passer well. Kevin Williams has 60 career quarterback sacks, Hill tallied eight quarterback sacks during his junior and senior seasons at Penn State and McDaniel registered 21 quarterback pressures in 2013.
With that being said, Williams’ role in Quinn’s defense is pretty well defined. In all likelihood, if his knee holds up, he will (best-case scenario) play around 400 snaps in 2014. A majority of them (225-275) will come on run downs, while the other 125-175 snaps will come on passing downs.
This is a fair estimate since defensive end Greg Scruggs and Marsh will be asked to play some 5-technique as well. According to Dan Pompei of B/R, Marsh “is likely to line up as a 5-technique on first and second downs and as a 3-technique on nickel downs.”
By the sounds of it, Williams will primarily battle Marsh for playing time, but that’s nothing new. Williams has battled before. He battled knee injuries in college, and he battled for his playing career while he was rehabbing during his rookie season.
The lesson here is that we shouldn't ever count Williams out. He has made of habit of overcoming adversity and thriving in spite of it.