With the 2014 NFL Draft still a couple months away, defensive end Nick Williams, the Pittsburgh Steelers seventh-round selection from just last year, seems to be a forgotten man after being forced to sit out his rookie season due to a subluxation of his left knee cap.
When going back over some of my notes from last year, I couldn’t help but marvel once again at Williams’ combine measurables and wonder if defensive line coach John Mitchell can eventually turn his project into a starter.
Last year at the combine, Williams, who measured in at over 6 foot, four inches and weighed 309 pounds, turned in a 4.94 40-yard dash time, according to NFL.com, with an unofficial 10-yard split of 1.63. Those numbers translated to an impressive, albeit irrelevant, 103.8 speed score.
Williams’ KEI rating (the sum of bench press reps, vertical jump and broad jump) of 70.25 was better than the ratings achieved by Ziggy Ansah, Datone Jones, Bjoern Werner and Sylvester Williams, all of whom were drafted last year in the first-round.
While you could see that Williams was athletic on tape during his final year at Samford, it was also easy to see he wasn’t technically sound. He often played too tall when lined up inside as a defensive tackle and lacked a solid base. While he showed that he was capable of using his 34 1/8″ arms and 10 1/4″ hands to create separation, he lacked consistency in that area.
NFL.com senior analyst and former Dallas Cowboys Vice President of Player Personnel, Gil Brandt, summed up Williams perfectly last year when he wrote, “Williams is a hard-working and athletic competitor. He’s still learning the game, but he’s got lots of upside and has a chance to be a good player.”
As far as comparisons go, Williams reminds you a lot of San Diego Chargers defensive end Kendall Reyes when you look at the measurables. Reyes has already registered 10.5 sacks in 32 games, however, while Williams has played all of 22 preseason snaps.
Reyes, like Williams, had to convert from defensive tackle to defensive end at the NFL level, but unlike Williams, he was a lot more technically sound and accomplished in college, and he faced much better competition to boot.
In case you’re curious, Reyes posted a 79.92 KEI rating back in 2012 to go along with a 98.27 speed score. In addition, he only has 33 1/4″ arms and 9 1/2″ hands.
I’m not suggesting that Mitchell will be able to turn Williams into Reyes, mind you, but I also think it’s way too early to throw the young defensive end out with the bath water. After all, Brett Keisel, who was also drafted by the Steelers in the seventh-round, turned out just fine and he didn’t start a game until his fifth year in the league. He registered a 68.42 KEI rating at the 2002 combine to go along with a 97.59 speed score.