Meet Milton Williams: NFL Draft's Small-School DT Who Tested Like Aaron Donald

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystApril 22, 2021

Texas running back Keaontay Ingram (26) is up ended by Louisiana Tech safety L'Jarius Sneed (1) and defensive end Milton Williams (97) on a run during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eric Gay/Associated Press

Once upon a time, Aaron Donald wasn't viewed as the world-destroying defensive juggernaut everyone knows him to be. 

Before the 2014 NFL draft, the undersized All-American was more of a curiosity. He didn't elicit the same type of awe as the top defensive prospects in the same class. Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack were the real franchise-changing defenders in that group. Or so it seemed. 

The perception of Donald began to change with his dominant performance at the Senior Bowl and especially after one of the best individual workouts ever at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. 

Donald had to convince scouts he had the physical makeup for his game to translate, because too many were hung up on his being a 6'1", 285-pound defensive tackle. The same applies to Louisiana Tech's Milton Williams. 

Sure, a significant difference exists between the two as prospects. Donald looked like a first-round talent throughout the process after multiple years of production and the recognition that goes along with being one of college football's top players.

At best, Williams could sneak into the first round, though he's more likely to go in the second. He didn't come close to dominating his opponents in the same manner. Williams wasn't even named the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year. 

But his workout results place him in the same conversation physically as Donald. Strictly from a numbers perspective, Williams is a slightly better athlete. The previous statement may seem blasphemous, but it's true.

Take a look at the similarities in their predraft measurements and testing numbers:

Aaron Donald (2014) v. Milton Williams (2021)
40-yard dash4.684.63
Broad jump9'8"10'1"
Short shuttle4.394.33
NFL.com & The Athletic's Dane Brugler

To better understand how unbelievably athletic Williams is—albeit based on a pro-day workout, which can be ambiguoushis reported 40-yard-dash and three-cone efforts were the best times by a defender weighing 280 or more pounds in the last 20 years, while his vertical ranked second, according to Pro Football Focus' Anthony Treash

"I knew that I was going to be the fastest defensive tackle in this draft class; no question about it," Williams told reporters after his pro-day performance. "No defensive tackle anywhere was going to run faster than me. I broke the record three weeks ago, and I broke it again today. That's how confident I am in my work ethic, and I put that on display today."

Williams projects as a defensive tackle, primarily a 3-technique. He does present some position flexibility as a base end, depending on system and usage. With that in mind, his relative athletic score ranked eighth out of 1,361 defensive ends drafted since 1987, per Pro Football Network's Kent Lee Platte

Again, Donald dominated in a way few collegiate defensive linemen have and eventually became the 13th pick. 

From his sophomore to senior seasons, the defensive lineman amassed 63 tackles for loss and 27.5 sacks. Donald won ACC Defensive Player of the Year and the Outland Trophy, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award and Lombardi Award after his senior season. His wrecking-ball style of play has always been present. 

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

"Size doesn't mean anything," Donald told me at the Senior Bowl seven years ago. "If you can play the game of football, you can play. ... Everything teams need to see is already on film." 

Williams is different in that he's packed with potential, but it didn't always translate, at least from a production standpoint. Over the last two seasons, the early entrant registered 19 tackles for loss and 10 sacks at a non-Power Five program. He didn't really emerge until his junior campaign. 

But the lack of traditional stats doesn't entail a poor performance. 

The Conference USA standout made his presence felt during his final season on campus while showing how his athleticism translates. PFF noted Williams was the only defensive tackle last season with an 85 or higher grade against the run and rushing the passer.

He broke the site's record for the single-highest pass-rush win rate for defensive tackles at 21.4 percent. Williams finished second only to Alabama's Christian Barmore, who many consider the top-rated defensive tackle in the class, with 30 quarterback pressures.

"He uses his hands really well, which makes his size less of a problem to me," an AFC area scout told NFL.com's Lance Zierlein.

Barmore's standing as the presumed top defensive tackle is an important point of reference for Williams. Generally speaking, the Louisiana Tech defensive lineman is projected to be a Day 2 prospect in what's considered a dreadful defensive tackle group.
"[Barmore] will get overdrafted because it's such a bad year for interior linemen," an anonymous scout told The Athletic's Bruce Feldman.
NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah took that a step further and called the incoming crop the worst defensive tackle group he's seen in his career, which dates to 2003, according to NJ.com's Zack Rosenblatt.
"I've never been the favorite," Williams tweeted.

Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

Maybe not. At the same time, Barmore may not be the only defensive tackle driven up boards by scarcity. Williams might even sniff the first round.
"Milton Williams is getting late first-round grades from some teams," Pro Football Network's Tony Pauline tweeted. "Doesn't mean he's going to go in the first round, it just means that he's getting Top 32 grades from teams."

To be fair, the class isn't quite as bad as it's made out to be. Value is in the eye of the beholder.

Yes, the incoming crop of defensive tackles lacks depth. But teams in search of 3-techniques could find contributors a little later. Iowa's Daviyon Nixon, Ohio State's Tommy Togiai, USC's Jay Tufele, UCLA's Osa Odighizuwa and Pitt's Jaylen Twyman are one-gap defenders who are best playing under tackle. However, Williams should lead this group.
He brings the versatility to play end after joining the Bulldogs as a 225-pound edge-defender. He lined up over the tackle quite a bit during his collegiate career. But his explosivity, off-the-charts athleticism and continued improvement in technique point toward a potential outstanding tackle who can consistently disrupt opposing backfields.

At first glance, Williams might not be for every NFL squad, just like Donald wasn't. Those organizations shouldn't let uninspiring measurables fool them when other aspects of Williams' athletic profile and play more than make up for any perceived deficiencies.


Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.


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