CFF Player Profile: Leonard Williams, DI
Leonard Williams is widely considered to be one of the best players in the entire draft. The defensive lineman from USC certainly looks the part. He tips the scales at 302 pounds, stands 6-foot-5 and generally measures like he was taken from a prototype mold of a modern day interior lineman.
He graded well over the course of the season at CFF and had a couple of truly dominant outings to bookend his year, but is he worthy of a top-five pick in the NFL Draft and is he as good as everybody seems to believe?
Williams graded out as one of the best interior players in FBS this year. He began the season by tearing into the Fresno State offensive line before suffering a down spell against Stanford, Boston College and Oregon State.
Those three games accounted for his only three average or worse performances of the year, but after that he notched nine straight positive games and finished his year much the same way as he began it, tearing an offensive line to ribbons, notching a sack and nine hurries against Nebraska in their bowl game.
Overview & Stats
Williams certainly popped when watching the tape. He was visibly much stronger than most of the blockers tasked with containing him and would routinely toss them aside to make when things came his way.
He notched 55 defensive stops, which led all defensive interior players in the FBS this season. His rate of a stop on 14.3% of his run snaps was also the best. He tallied five more stops than any other interior lineman graded by CFF this year. Only DeForest Buckner tallied more solo tackles than Williams’ 59, though Danny Shelton matched him and had 11 more assists over the year.
Williams was also a productive pass rusher, notching 51 total pressures and three batted passes from his pass rushing snaps. Only two defensive interior players had more total pressures this year and one of those played far more snaps as an edge presence than Williams did over the season.
There is no doubt that he is a far superior player to the majority of people he was going up against, and clearly a level above most guys he faced. His stats look great on the surface, but he didn’t look as consistently dominant as perhaps he should have given his physical abilities.
Williams appeared to be far too passive on tape too often. He had the ability to rag-doll his blockers and make plays in the backfield seemingly any time he wanted, but far too often he would only deploy that ability once he read the play coming in his direction, rather than using it as a proactive weapon to penetrate the line of scrimmage and play the game on the opposition’s side.
Multiple PFF/CFF staffers came up with the same line to describe Williams after watching his tape: “Reactive, not active”.
There’s no doubt that some of this is scheme. Williams was a 3-4 defensive end often asked to control two gaps and read and react, but that doesn’t explain it all. Looking only at third and long plays this season – plays where everybody is going after the quarterback – his numbers are actually worse than the FBS average among defensive interior players and he recorded only eight total pressures from 94 pass rush snaps. When he definitely had the freedom to get after the quarterback without any restrictions Williams’ numbers were worse than usual. That is a red flag.
If there’s one thing that doesn’t seem to show up that often on tape it’s elite burst off the line and penetration. His combine numbers represent a bit of a mixed bag in terms of showing explosion. His 40- and 10-yard times were good, but his broad jump and vertical leap were both far less impressive, and both are designed to show a player’s explosive ability.
Maybe Williams has that ability and can be coached to be more disruptive at the next level, to penetrate and attack more, playing the game in the backfield rather than disengaging from blocks at the line of scrimmage and allowing a certain inbuilt gain before he makes the play. On the other hand maybe that is an inherent negative in his play. If it is, that is likely to limit the impact he can have in the NFL, where blockers are bigger, stronger and play with better technique, and any delay in attacking gaps results in bigger gains by the offense.
If that is the case, Williams is always likely to be a better run defender at the next level than he is a pass-rusher at a time when the opposite is more desirable in an ever more pass-oriented league.
There is no doubt that Williams is supremely talented, but there are question marks that get thrown up on tape and his CFF grades. Are those question marks enough to scare teams away from taking him inside the Top 5 picks of the draft, or will they be confident they can coach the best out of a player with all the raw tools they could wish for?
Here’s Sam discussing Williams a bit further:
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