NFL Draft 2011: D.J. Williams a Savior for Seattle Seahawks Rushing Attack?
Former Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams is not a player that is on many radar’s as a potential draftee for the Seahawks in 2011; on the surface he doesn’t appear to fit a need for Seattle.
However, Williams was included in the first group of 2011 prospects I highlighted in February, a potential convert to fullback.
As the Seahawks alter the offensive scheme into 2011, offensive line/assistant head coach Tom Cable will surely be in favor of adding a physical, versatile backfield presence.
Additionally, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is known for tailoring roles in the offense for players with unique skill sets, Chester Taylor during his tenure in Minnesota is a prime example. A sure handed, tough fullback could be a consistent, and sometimes dynamic, weapon in Bevell’s offense.
The dilemma; at 6’2”, 245 pounds Williams is not an ideal NFL tight end, but he is not a natural fullback; his skill set fits the role of a an H-back or hybrid fullback.
Williams is currently projected to be a mid-round pick, partly because he does not have a clear role in the NFL. That said, can he fit in Seattle?
Let’s take a closer look at the potential Williams brings to Seattle, both on and off the field.
2010 John Mackey Award Winner’s College Career and Skill Set
Williams was an all-state, two-way player in high school that fully converted to tight end at Arkansas.
Williams was voted the nation’s top tight end in 2010, also receiving the 2010 Disney Spirit award. His award in 2010 was a culmination to a well rounded, very productive career as a student athlete.
Williams’ 2008 year was his breakout season, catching 61 balls to lead the team and set a tight end school record for receptions at Arkansas.
His receptions dipped to 32 his junior year, but only because Coach Bobby Petrino wasn’t happy with Williams' blocking during his sophomore campaign; Williams worked hard to become one of the more reliable blockers on the team, his team first attitude prevailing.
Williams was more than just reliable as a blocker his senior season; 54 catches for 627 yards as a team leader in 2010, Williams turned in a fine all around season as a leader for the razorbacks.
As I noted earlier, Williams is too short to be a tight end, but too talented as a receiver to be a full time fullback; he plays with the attitude of an offensive lineman—check out the video above. Thus, his projection as an H-back or hybrid fullback.
Williams is thick, compact, pesky and tough. A low center of gravity allows him to gain leverage in the run game against linebackers and safeties, but he lacks the technique and size to consistently take on bigger players. No matter what, he’ll get a hat on a hat.
Williams has strong hands and does a good job of catching balls outside his frame for a person of his stature. His combine drills were particularly impressive, displaying his route running and ball skills, sharp in his cuts and possessing good body control.
One thing to note is he has more straight line speed than dynamic explosiveness. Not a guy that is going to consistently make a player miss with open field moves, but churns through contact and is able to use his power and attitude. He is consistently aware of the play and intelligent in helping the quarterback; he gets it done.
As a potential main blocker, he will bring explosive capabilities out of the backfield; a smooth, intelligent route runner that excels against zone coverage and is willing to go over the middle.
No matter the position, Williams is ready to be a contributor on the next level.
What Is an H-Back?
The H-back has a variety of perceived meanings, but is traditionally a player that blocks with the skills of a fullback, but provides the presence of a second tight end either in motion or lined up in the backfield--the Washington Redskins Chris Cooley is a current example of an H-back type.
A tight end-full back hybrid, an H-Back is a player lacking the size to be a traditional downfield tight end, but catches more balls than a traditional full back; the blocking duties of the position are among the most complex due to the player's movement in various formations.
The H-back is not usually used as a primary in-line blocker, that filled by the role of the traditional tight end or a backup.
The position is unique because the non-blocking element to the position is the role of a motion tight end; offset and behind the tackle weak side or in the same position strong side off the tight end, in the backfield lined up as a fullback, flexed off the line in trips, or in constant motion; the H-back is a constant variant for the defense, a pre-snap weapon for the offense.
Two things must be noted: the H-back is not a primary ball carrier and must have a very high football IQ due to his constant movement around the field.
Giving an H-back carries breaks the traditional mold of the position, but fullbacks can both play the H-back role and carry the football.
The H-back helps disguise both formations and tendencies, while forcing the defense to show. The constant motion and versatile skill set ads a dimension to the short and mid range passing attack; the H-back’s prowess can be used to open up the downfield passing attack as well.
Created by Joe Gibbs in the 1980's to neutralize outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor, it's a less used tool in today’s NFL, but can be a dangerous weapon when given a main role in the offense.
But the Seahawks Are Set at Tight End and Had a Serviceable Fullback…
The Seahawks were not weak at either position in 2010, but dealt with injuries and inconsistent play at both areas; talent that flashed potential, but at times performed below expectations.
Tight End: John Carlson is going into his contract season and will work to become more of a threat in the passing game after a disappointing 2010. One of the NFL's emerging tight ends, Carlson was expected to have a break out season as a main target in Jeremy Bates' system.
Dropped passes early in the season and injuries to many offensive starters often forced Carlson into pass or run protection. He emerged at the end of the season, but his concussion during the playoff loss in Chicago ultimately ended the season sourly.
Cameron Morrah emerged as a big bodied receiving threat that can line up on the outside. Only nine catches in the regular season, he emerged with four catches in two post season games; one tremendous play against New Orleans, but a crucial drop early against Chicaco. He has the skills to be a dynamic receiving threat as the number two tight end.
Anthony Mccoy is a 2010 6th round pick from USC coming off injury, but he is a very strong in line blocker with soft hands.
The Seahawks appear nearly set at the tight end position. However, they head into 2011 without a fullback on their roster.
Fullback: Michael Robinson is a solid and versatile veteran, but not a power fullback. His usually reliable hands were not so reliable in 2010 and he missed five games with a hamstring injury. Robinson was a player I was high on going into 2010, but he had an up and down year in Seattle.
Isaiah Stanback and Golden Tate can provide the special teams and wildcat abilities Robinson brought to the offense in 2010, those players more explosive out of the backfield; Stanback started 20 games at quarterback for the University of Washington, able to fill Robinson’s emergency quarterback role as well.
I believe the right backfield presence is an underrated need for Seattle this offseason, a tough, reliable, smart and versatile leader could be an unforeseen, yet major upgrade going into the 2011 season.
A Unique Character in the 2011 Draft
As D.J. Williams grew into the spot light as an All-American and national award winner, the story of his past began to come to light.
You hear about a player having character, great work ethic on and off the field, a leader in the locker room. The coachable, team player everyone wants.
But every so often, there's one of those stories that’s just different. A football player that’s past molded him into a player for future, possessing attitude that can only be obtained through raw, gritty personal experience.
I stumbled upon a piece by ESPN’s Chris Low that documented D.J. Williams childhood; with his two sisters and mother, they together battled the fear of a spiraling, abusive, addictive father.
Williams, with his two sisters and mother, fled to little rock Arkansas in 1999, after D.J. put his finger on Little Rock when his mom told him to pick a place on the map.
David Williams was soon jailed on murder charges and the family persevered in Arkansas. The video above is the presentation of the 2010 Disney Spirit award, a video presentation that gives a candid view into Williams' past, a storyline similar to Low's article—you can learn his entire story in just under six minutes of video time.
The heart Williams shows on the field does not subside off the field.
Low, quoting coach Petrino;"In every aspect of his life -- whether it's the training room or the weight room, with his faculty advisors or with the women's basketball coach -- he becomes great friends with them. He's just a great young guy who appreciates life and makes it easy for everybody.”
Easier for everyone except those lining up across from him; when asked what he’ll bring to an NFL team if drafted, Williams has been responding; “the same attitude you see on game tape.” (And in the video on the previous slide)
A rare blend of character and football IQ, Williams can be a factor helping a team compete and win, on and off the field, for years to come.
Tom Cable and Marcel Reece
I mentioned earlier that former Vikings running back Chester Taylor is a prime example to see how new Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is willing to tailor the roles of his position players based around the individual skill set; Taylor an elite receiving back that played a main role in the passing offense.
In attempting to uncover any potential roles Tom Cable will install into the offense for Seattle in 2011, I want to highlight Oakland Raider fullback Marcel Reece.
Reece played receiver in junior college before spending two seasons at the University of Washington as a receiver. He was not invited to the combine; at his pro day in 2008, he listed at 6’3” and a generous 240 pounds; he ran a 4.42 40 yard dash, 9”6 broad jump and 36.5 vertical leap --A bit more explosive than Williams (4.67, 9'3", 33.5), but also leaner and a higher center of gravity.
Reece was an undrafted free agent, signed and cut by Miami in 2008, before Tom Cable brought him to Oakland in 2009; Reece described himself as a complete prospect out of college, believing his commitment to blocking, coupled with his size and speed, made him a dynamic weapon.
Reece described his experience in Raiders camp in 2009 as going to bed as a receiver and waking up as a fullback.
He spent 2009 learning the fullback position before breaking out in 2010—in case some Seahawks fans have erased Reece's 4th and 1 touchdown week 8 in Oakland from their memory, the video above serves as a reminder—as an all-around threat out of the backfield.
30 carries, 25 catches, a total of 475 yards and four touchdowns. He lined up in I-formation as the fullback, but also motioned as an H-back or split out wide as a receiver.
Most importantly, Reece helped engineer the running game. In 2010, the Raiders were first in runs over twenty yards; second in rush yards per game, yards per carry and touchdowns.
The Seahawks need a similar backfield presence in the running game; I think Reece is a good model for the type of role Cable may try and work into the system, especially given Bevell’s history of scheming the backfield into the passing game.
A fullback with a skill set similar to Reece would be an underrated and exciting addition for the Seahawks in 2011.
The Hybrid Full Back in the Seahawks 2011 Offense?
Williams has the combination of skills to play that Reece-like role for the Seahawks. He would fill a need both at fullback and as a sub-package tight end.
We saw John Carlson in an H-back role at times in 2010, mainly in the absence of Michael Robinson during his injury. Carlson, though a capable fill in, is not ideal for the H-back type role; suited to play the traditional tight end.
Williams’ addition could bring a variety of wrinkles to the offense: sub-packages featuring the three man backfield would become a legitimate possibility, especially given Carlson’s versatility to be a second H-back or situational fullback; the young, three headed stable at the running back position would certainly benefit from a player with the football IQ and leadership potential of Williams.
Seattle would have the speed and power to attack the edges in the running game from multiple formations and the versatility to find mismatches in the short-to-intermediate passing game, featuring the backs and tight ends; mismatches in one on one coverage down field would become more common as well.
Furthermore, Willams brings the ability to transition between the tight end, H-back and full back role. The defense will have to show their hand towards his position in some instances, or run the risk of confusion in coverage.
Defenses will at times bring an extra man into the box, but to defend both the run and pass; Williams can play a key role in dictating the defense.
A more dynamic offense created by solidifying the foundation; protecting the quarterback, versatile run blocking, improvement in the short-to-intermediate passing attack and more attitude in the backfield.
Yes, the Seahawks will still need to improve the offensive line; but they will not have a complete rushing attack until they find the right fullback.
Williams may be available for the Seahawks in the fourth round; he's worthy of being selected earlier and Seattle might have to strategize early in day two if they hope to land him.
He has the skill set to soften the blow left by Leonard Weaver's departure and the attitude to begin to bring back the days of Mack Strong. Not the sexiest pick, but an off-beat and savvy decision for the Seahawks to consider in the 2011 draft.