NEPD Staff Writer: Mike Gerken
I try to avoid reading about or watching highlights of a player that I am going to be scouting so that I can form my own opinion. When I turned on the tape of the USC vs. Stanford game and saw that Leonard Williams was dealing with a high ankle sprain and may not play, I thought I was going to have to go to plan B. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what plan B was. I continued to watch and was relieved to see him out there on the 1st play.
When Williams was flat on the ground and struggling to get up by play 3, I was once again thinking about my nonexistent plan B. I decided that I needed to break my rule and look to see if I could find a snap count for Williams in the game. The first headline to pop up said something along the lines of “Williams dominant despite injury.” I knew then that I was in for a treat.
Here are my observations from the game.
Leonard Williams is listed at 6’5″, 305 lbs., which makes him the ideal size to play a 3-4 DE or a 4-3 DT. He even played some NT in the 3-4 but I would not expect to see that at the next level. Even with a bum ankle, Williams was able to flash his impressive athleticism. On one particular play, there was a botched snap and he knifed through a double team and tracked down one of Stanford’s fastest players from behind. Williams had 11 tackles, mostly coming in the running game where he showed a nice combination of hand use to shed blocks and vision to find the ball carrier and finish the play. Williams uses a good first step and initial burst to fight through double teams, especially from the inside, to take advantage of his blockers. For someone his size, Williams has an outstanding motor and shows fantastic pursuit and hustle play in and play out. His unrelenting play wears down his opponent as the game goes on.
Leonard Williams had a great game, but not without faults. There were times when he rushed the passer from the interior and seemed to lean too far forward, which made him get off balance. He also is not a natural pass rusher from the DE position. He plays high when trying to come around the corner and did not show much for pass rush moves. Williams would also play high at times in the run game, which would lead to him being blown off the line of scrimmage initially, although to his credit, he recovered quickly. I noticed this happened when going up against another potential first round pick in Andrus Peat, the LT for Stanford. One final note, I have praised Williams for his play while injured, but he has dealt with injuries throughout his career at USC, which could potentially be a concern.
I give Williams a lot of credit for fighting through the injury and playing. The fact that he played well only goes to show his work ethic and determination. His combination of size, speed, and athleticism are rare, even for the NFL. He can play all along the defensive line and be effective in the run game as well as an interior pass disruptor. One of Williams’ biggest attributes is his relentless motor, which could make him a very special player in the NFL.