From now until the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’ll be profiling an edge prospect that has flashed impressive play as a pass rusher in the SEC, but his run defense and previous troubles off the field raise legitimate concerns heading into the pre-draft process.
#7 Sam Williams, EDGE, Ole Miss (R-Sr.) – 6035, 261 lbs.
Senior Bowl/Combine Invites
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Sam Williams||6035/261||9 7/8″||33 1/8”||80 1/4″|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Good-looking edge prospect with the length, bulk, and frame you want at the position
— Extremely explosive defender in terms of speed (4.46 40) and burst off the ball (10’3” broad)
— Fires out of his stance as a pass rusher, attempting to overwhelm blockers with speed off the edge
— Closing speed on the ballcarrier is a sight to see, displaying the acceleration to run down backs downfield as well as QBs attempting to escape the pocket
— Works hard to stay in pursuit of the ball and work around blocks
— Motor runs hot in pursuit of the ball as he maneuvers his way through trash to get to the ball
— Does a good job leaning around the corner as a pass rusher with a fair amount of bend to get into the pocket
— Likes to counter inside across the blocker’s face when they try to overset him
— Has some shock in his hands when he decides to unload on blockers with his punch
— Has experience lining up up-and-down the LOS as an outside edge rusher all the way to a 3-technique in Ole Miss’s defensive system
— Play strength doesn’t match up with his frame and power as an athlete
— Easily walked back in the run game and can be put onto his back at times due to poor pad level/inconsistent effort
— Doesn’t use his hands enough to stack and shed blockers against the run or fight off blocks as a pass rusher
— Pass rush will stall when initial speed rush fails, and he is unable to counter inside
— Stays on blocks too long, allowing runners to go past him or no rush to be created against the pass
— Will try and win the corner on tackles, but constantly is reached and neutralized at the top of his rush
— Noticeably has effort issues when playing the run, being more of a liability than an asset at times
— Tendency to lunge forward into blocks and play upright lead to poor base, thus not holding his gap or keeping outside contain
— Will allow blockers into his chest as a pass rusher, effectively ending his rush unless the play breaks down
— Much of his production came on broken plays or against sub-par competition rather than on “clean sacks”
— Interviews, previous legal history, and background going to JUCO due to poor grades raise legit concerns about personality and potential off-the-field issues in the league
— Redshirt Senior prospect from Montgomery, AL
— Born March 31, 1999 (age 22)
— Signed with Northeast Mississippi CC after high school due to poor grades
— Notched 53 tackles, 11 TFL, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries as a freshman in 2017
— Unanimous 4-star prospect and #7 overall JUCO prospect
— Was named a first team NJCAA All-American following his sophomore campaign at Northeast Mississippi where he Totaled 75 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, 17.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and four pass breakups as a sophomore in 2018
— Transferred to Ole Miss from JUCO and Registered eight starts at outside linebacker in 12 games played in 2019 where he tallied 38 total tackles (21 solo), 9.5 TFLs, six sacks, a forced fumble, and an INT
— Suspended in July of 2020 after being charged and arrested on a felony charge of sexual battery and booked into Lafayette County Detention Center and was later released after posting $25,000 bond
— Charges against Williams were dropped in September of the same year, allowing him to return to the team for the 2020 season
— Appeared in 10 games with six starts on the defensive line in 2020 where he recorded 39 total stops (24 solo) eight TFLs, four sacks and a forced fumble
— Used his additional year of eligibility due to pandemic and enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2021 where he logged 13 starts and notched 57 total tackles (31 solo), 15 TFLs, 12.5 sacks, and PBU, four forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery for a TD
— Graduated in May of 2021 with a bachelor’s in multi-disciplinary studies
— 2021 All-American Third Team (Associated Press) 2021 All-SEC First Team
Sam Williams is a prospect that is tough in terms of gauging his draft stock in lead up to the 2022 NFL Draft. On one hand, you have a dynamic pass rusher that starred at JUCO before becoming eligible to play in the SEC for the Rebels, capping his career off with a First Team All-SEC nod where he posted 12.5 sacks and 15 TFLs, second in the conference to only Will Anderson of Alabama. On the other hand, you have a player that has notable struggles against the run and had to take the long road due to poor academics while also being charged with sexual battery in his second season at Ole Miss, being removed from the team until changes were dropped.
If we evaluate the player only, it’s easy to become enamored with Sam Williams as a prospect. He is the definition of a speed rusher off the edge, having the ability to turn the corner with burst and bend to get around the tackle and into the lap of the QB. Here’s one example against Austin Peay as Williams gets a great jump on the snap of the ball, immediately getting the RT to turn his shoulders as he rips through the block and finishes at the QB, stripping the ball and picking it up to take it to the house for the defensive score.
When Williams wants to show some speed to power in his game, he is more than capable of shocking blockers back with his hands to get them off-balance and susceptible to losing the outside. Check out this rep against Mississippi State where Williams initially attacks the RT’s chest and then rips through his outside shoulder, showing good bend and lean around the corner and into the pocket as he finishes on top of the passer for the sack.
Due to his speed and explosiveness off the ball, many tackles will try and overset Williams, giving him and inside track to counter across their face. That is exactly what happens here against #67 Charles Cross as he immediately turns his shoulders to the edge in attempt to overset Williams who redirects back inside, splitting the LT and LG to chase the QB from behind across the field and force the pass to the sideline that falls incomplete.
When watching Williams on film and down at the Senior Bowl, one thing that constantly kept popping into my mind was his constant pursuit and motor as a pass rusher. He continues to always chase the QB, giving plenty of effort into his second or even third rush attempt to try and catch him. Here is one example against Liberty where Williams initially tries to swim over the RT and has his initial rush stall at the top of the arc, but he continues to work on the extended play, working around the blocks and finds daylight into the pocket where he drills #7 Malik Willis from behind, jarring the ball out forcing the fumble.
Here is another example of Williams winning on a broken play as a pass rusher, this time initially whooping the RT around the corner to get at #10 Bo Nix, but he fails to bring him down to the turf. Still, Williams pops up and shows off his impressive closing speed to chase down Nix who is scanning down the field for an open receiver, wrapping him up and swinging him out of bounds.
Occasionally, you will see that same effort in the run game as well from Williams as he attempts to work off blocks to make plays in the backfield. Ole Miss often asked him to play out of position, kicking him inside as a 3-technique of 4i to rush over the guard or to try and take on blocks in run defense. We see the latter here against the Aggies as Williams lines up head-up on #55 Kenyon Green who initially pushes Williams off the line, but Williams works across Green’s face into the gap, meeting #28 Isaiah Spiller in the backfield for no gain on the play.
Still, as mentioned earlier, plenty of Williams’ production comes on broken, extended plays as a pass rusher rather than routinely finishing on a “clean” pass rush. He also has noticeable issues disengaging from blocks, often relying on his speed without using his hands to stack and shed or to execute a pass rush move to win around the corner. Here is one example against Alabama where Williams gets chipped by #73 Evan Neal and then meets the RB who is trying to seal him off to allow #4 Brian Robinson Jr. to hit the hole. Williams should easily blow through the block attempt to collapse the play, but he overextends on the blocker and fails to impact the runner who squeezes through.
Williams told me at the Combine that Neal was the blocker that gave him the most fits this season, and after watching him play the run, I can understand why. Neal is a good run blocker in his own right, but Williams gets too high and extended, lacking the base to sit down and anchor at the LOS against blockers across from him. We see that happen here as Neal buries Williams after initially getting knocked back on the snap, taking advantage of Williams’ poor pad level and excessive forward lean and puts him into the ground, creating a wide running lane to set up first and goal.
Here is a similar example against Texas A&M where Williams does a good job of getting into the RT on the snap, getting his right hands into his shoulder pads to lift him up. However, Williams is unable to shed the block and gets driven back by the blocker as the runner gets past him, attempting to reach out with his arm, but fails to get a hold of him as he gets driven back and the runner picks up the first.
Finally, while there are several examples of Williams showing off great pursuit of the ball, there are just as many examples where it looks like he is running on empty as a pass rusher, providing little-to-no effort after his initial rush fails or when he is tired. There are plenty of times where he is subbed out on run downs due to fatigue as well as inconsistent effort against the run.
It also shows up as a pass rusher like in this clip against the Crimson Tide where Williams drops his head and extends his torso on contact, immediately being stopped by the RT. He appears to hop on one leg like he is hurt, but plays the rest of the game, thus suggesting the issue wasn’t that serious. He looks around after coming to and sees #9 Bryce Young scrambling but is slow to redirect as Young runs past him and nearly scores on the scramble attempt.
Overall, I initially came away a big fan of Sam Williams during the college season giving his prowess as a speed rusher off the edge, having the size and burst to be a real headache for blockers tasked with slowing him down. However, after studying his game and discovering the inconsistencies there were in terms of technique, effort, and development outside of winning purely on the speed rush, I came away a little colder on him as a prospect. My interview with him at the Combine didn’t help matters as he came off abrasive, unengaged, and unprofessional, sticking to one-word answers and got offended when I asked how his time away from the team helped him grow as a player and a person.
Given his skill set as a pass rusher, his measurables, and his background and off-the-field concerns, I found Bruce Irvin to be a pretty accurate pro comparison for Sam Williams. Both have near identical size and athletic testing numbers at twitchy pass rushers that win with speed and quickness around the edge, have a history of playing up-and-down the LOS, and a similar background off the field as Irvin also started at community college (Butler) before going to Mt. San Antonio College and then transferred again to West Virginia. Irvin was a player also recognized for his numerous off-the-field concerns prior to the league and even was suspended in 2013 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Irvin went on to having a productive career as a pass rusher mainly for the Seahawks and Raiders, but often too struggled to be a consistent run defender, being subbed out in certain packages much like Williams had to at Ole Miss. Now, Williams has the physical tools and traits to develop into a legitimate three-down starting edge defender in the league, both in a 4-3 or 3-4 front. His pass rush ability and athletic test would normally promote a jump in draft stock like Irvin saw (15th overall pick), but the run defense and off the field concerns are hard to ignore.
Teams will likely see Williams as a gamble that could pay off should he slide a little in a deep EDGE class, or a potential risk that isn’t worth it should he fail to develop into anything more than a designated pass rusher. In the case of Pittsburgh, Williams told me that he hadn’t spoken to the Steelers at the Combine which shouldn’t come as a shock given their desire to stay away from players with character concerns. The Steelers could likely use some depth at outside linebacker in this draft class, and while Williams is undoubtedly talented, I would highly doubt he is on the team’s short list come April.
Projection: Late Day Two to Day Three
Depot Draft Grade: 7.4 CHAR – Raw Traits/Upside Prospect (4th Round)
Games Watched: at Alabama (2021), at Mississippi State (2021), vs Texas A&M (2021), vs Liberty (2021), Senior Bowl (2021)