Alabama's part-time pass-rushers are ready for full-time production
If asked who the most productive pass-rusher on a per-snap basis was last year, Ohio State’s Joey Bosa, Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and Clemson’s Shaq Lawson would all be expected answers. However, as good as all three of them were, no edge defender in the nation was more productive as a pass-rusher than Alabama’s Tim Williams. He was utterly dominant on very limited snaps and, paired with fellow part-time pass-rusher Ryan Anderson, will play a huge role in getting Alabama back to the College Football Playoff as they aim to repeat as national champions.
The news out of Alabama’s spring game was that Williams has embraced his new every-down role, and flat out ruined the offenses day at Bryant-Denny Stadium. That’s great news for him, and for everyone who wanted to see more of him — but less so for opposing offensive tackles, quarterbacks and offensive coordinators.
We now have two full seasons of data on Williams, but the sample size is still so much smaller than most of the other top players in the nation. He registered a sack, a hit and 11 hurries in 2014, and while those numbers don’t exactly scream dominant pass rusher, he did that on just 48 pass rushing snaps. That means he got pressure once every 3.7 pass rushing attempts. To put that in context, Joey Bosa just went in the first five picks of the NFL draft, and he got pressure once every 4.9 pass rushing attempts.
Playing just 59 snaps total as a sophomore, more playing time was expected for Williams in 2015. While he did get more snaps, a loaded Alabama defense meant that he was still relegated to a part-time role. With 148 pass-rushing attempts, Williams notched 11 sacks, eight hits and 33 hurries.
52 total pressures on just 148 attempts.
A pressure once every 2.8 pass rushing attempts.
That’s incredible, and one of the key improvements in his game in 2015 was that he was able to finish better, with his 11 sacks tied for ninth among edge defenders in the nation, despite such a low snap count. The play below was a hit as opposed to a sack, forcing an intentional grounding penalty from Connor Cook, but make no mistake about it — we’re talking about one of, if not the best best pass rushers in all of college football heading into the 2016 season.
One thing that’s going to be key for Williams now that he appears headed for a full time role, is that he has to be good against the run too. His game has to evolve slightly and become a bit more disciplined, and not just sell out for the pass rush like he could as a third-down specialist. That being said, it’s not like he struggled on his 34 snaps against the run last year. Williams made a tackle resulting in a defensive stop five times, giving him a run-stop percentage of 14.7 percent. That’s better than Wisconsin’s Vince Biegel, who had the fourth-highest grade against the run among edge defenders in 2015, so let’s not count Williams run defense against him just yet.
The biggest knock you can say about Ryan Anderson right now is that he’s not as dominant a pass rusher as his teammate. While Williams’ 28.4 pass-rushing productivity rating ranks first among 3-4 outside linebackers, Anderson is “just” fifth at 19.1. Registering 39 total pressures on 162 pass rushing snaps, he doesn’t get there quite as often as Williams, but he’s still a scary proposition for opposing offensive lineman.
Anderson has played more than Williams though, with 361 last year, and 681 total over the past two seasons. That’s still not a lot, but snaps are tough to come by on an Alabama defense that is loaded year after year. Like Williams, he has bided his time, and opted to return for his senior season despite being draftable a year ago. His pass rush grade of +21.5 ranked 28th among edge defenders, despite playing at least 150 fewer snaps than every player with a higher grade, and he was routinely disruptive when he got on the field.
Not just a pass rusher, his run defense grade of +14.0 ranked 19th, despite playing just 150 snaps against the run. He played 140 of those snaps while lined up at outside linebacker, making 14 tackles resulting in a defensive stop, good for a run-stop percentage of 10.0. That’s lower than Williams, which comes on a very small sample size, but Anderson bumps his grade up with plenty of plays where he might not be the one making the tackle, but he is making an impact somewhere — either squeezing the point of attack, or forcing a cut from the running back. It’s a role he’ll get the chance to expand on as a full time player but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him as one of the best edge defenders in the nation against the run in 2016.
That’s the key difference between Williams and Anderson so far in their college careers. Williams has been the more destructive pass rusher, but Anderson has been the better all round player, and that diversity is part of what makes them so scary to opposing teams.
If the Crimson Tide only had one of these guys getting ready to ruin Saturdays for non-Alabama fans in the SEC it’d be one thing, but with the combination of Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson, we could be looking at one of the most devastating duos college football has ever seen — provided they can translate their part-time dominance into full-time production.