Maxx Williams Is Rare Tight End Worthy of 1st-Round Pick

Cian Fahey@CianafFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2015

USA Today

Maxx Williams has conceded the spotlight.

NFL draft coverage has shifted its focus to Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota and the rest of the projected top 10 picks. Williams was once thought of as a player who could potentially go in the first round of the draft, but it's hard to find multiple mock drafts that have him among the first 32 picks now.

Instead, the Minnesota tight end appears set to be selected in the second round.

Very little has happened since the college football season ended to suggest Williams is a worse player now. His combine performance was impressive, while his measurements were as expected at 6'4" and 249 pounds. The only notable negative came from an anonymous source who suggested to NFL.com that his character may be an issue.

It's difficult to put stock in what anonymous sources say about character. For one, they are hiding behind a veil of anonymity, and secondly, their opinion may be contradictory to that of the majority.

Williams' drop down the projections is more a reflection of the natural evolution of the process. As more analysts and teams have watched more and more players, different talents at different positions have risen up the rankings and supplanted former first-rounders.

A potentially discounted price won't prevent Williams from possibly developing into a true matchup nightmare in the NFL.

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Mismatches at the tight end position have been in demand in recent times after the New Orleans Saints' success with Jimmy Graham and the New England Patriots' success with Rob Gronkowski. It's unfair to expect Williams to be as good as either of those players, but he could still become a dangerous receiver with some upside as a blocker.

Nov 8, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers tight end Maxx Williams (88) catches a touchdown past Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back John Lowdermilk (37) in the first half at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Playing for Minnesota may have hurt Williams' development more than it helped. The Golden Gophers used him sparsely during both of his seasons on the field. Williams compiled 986 yards and 13 touchdowns on 61 receptions in 25 games. And 36 of those receptions came last year, as he notched 569 yards and eight touchdowns.

According to Sports-Reference.com, the offense in Minnesota ran the ball 46.1 times and threw it just 19.5 times per game last year. As such, it's fair to presume Williams wasn't getting enough development as a receiving option.

Any team that selects Williams should focus on his receiving ability. That stretches past just targeting him in games. Williams should spend most of his offseason, training camp and practice time during the regular season working on becoming a better route-runner.

He has the athleticism to create separation in a straight line but will need more subtlety in his movement to deceive NFL defenders.

Much like a Greg Olsen, Julius Thomas or Jimmy Graham, Williams' primary threat to the defense on a given play could be vertical. He has the straight-line speed to not only take the top off the defense through his route, but also to run away from defenders after the catch.

At multiple points on this play, Williams' explosiveness can be seen.

Credit: Draftbreakdown.com

Williams initially lines up to the left of the offensive line. His release from the line of scrimmage is disrupted by the defensive end across from him. Once past the defensive end, Williams attempts to run down the seam, but he is immediately confronted by a linebacker.

That linebacker can't turn with Williams to stay on top of his route when the tight end breaks infield.

By getting inside position on the linebacker, Williams has a clear lane to attack the seam. Once level with the linebacker, he is able to create separation down the field. Because the linebacker is working so hard to recover position, he has no chance of sticking with Williams when he breaks outside on the corner route.

A comfortable catch precedes Williams' turn down the sideline. He is confronted by one defensive back recovering after his initial assignment. At Williams' size, you would expect him to initiate contact in this situation. Instead, he hurdles the defender with relative ease.

Williams has covered roughly 40 yards to this point, but he needs to beat another defender to get to the end zone.

The final defender attempting to cut Williams off doesn't have a good angle to make a tackle. Therefore, he attempts to dive at the tight end's feet to cut him down short of the line. He fails as Williams is able to jump away from him and fall into the end zone.

Having already exuded so much effort to get to that point of the play, the ability to again evade a tackle to get to the end zone is very impressive. For a normal wide receiver, that wouldn't be much of a feat, but for a player of Williams' size, it is phenomenal.

To go along with that athleticism and size, Williams' other primary strength is his ability at the catch point.

Credit: Draftbreakdown.com

Credit: Draftbreakdown.com

Despite not seeing that many targets during his time in college, Williams had enough opportunities to highlight his natural ability at the catch point. That ability allowed him to catch the ball in multiple ways in different situations.

Williams is capable of making the routine plays required of a possession tight end and the spectacular receptions outside that will make him a multifaceted threat to the defense.

If there is one area of concern for Williams, it's the need to prove his consistency at making receptions against tight coverage. Working the middle of the field is going to be important for the tight end. He will need to show off the willingness and strength to absorb punishment at the catch point.

Although his overall strength is a concern, Williams did show off enough power as a blocker and flashed some strength as a ball-carrier to ease any potential suitor's mind.

There is always more projection than evaluation with draft prospects. Because of the nature of his journey through the college ranks, decisions made on Williams will be even more about projection than evaluation than is typical.

He will be seen as a raw prospect who has significant upside but also significant risk. Taking him in the first round only exacerbates the risk, but the second round is often where teams look to acquire players with greater upside and some added risk.

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Any offense could benefit from adding the type of player that Williams promises to be. Only Bruce Arians of the Arizona Cardinals is extreme in his view of tight ends being blockers instead of receivers.

Each of the teams picking at the end of the first round could potentially add Williams to its roster. The Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots all need a tight end but will likely address more pressing needs when they are on the clock.

Past those picks, the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons appear to be the most likely teams to catch Williams before he falls into the middle of the second round.

Tight end isn't considered a priority position right now. However, the right combination of athleticism, size and technical ability is always going to be valued highly by NFL teams no matter the position. Williams is simply too talented to fall far down the draft board.

In speaking with D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Williams revealed he hopes to emulate the play of Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten: 

He’s a complete tight end in my opinion. He blocks. He runs routes. He makes plays for his team. That’s what I want to be. I want to go to the NFL and be a complete tight end and make plays with my hands, but also in the run game by making complete blocks.

It's significant that Williams understands and stresses the importance of being valuable in the running game. Being an oversized receiving option like Eric Ebron can get you into the first round of the draft, but it's much more likely if you offer greater versatility.

Recent First Round Tight Ends
2014Eric EbronDetroit Lions10
2013Tyler EifertCincinnati Bengals21
2010Jermaine GreshamCincinnati Bengals21
2009Brandon PettigrewDetroit Lions20
2008Dustin KellerNew York Jets30
2007Greg OlsenChicago Bears31

Williams may not immediately replicate Witten's impact, but his talent is significant enough to suggest that he can one day become as impactful a player.


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