Stories of the Season: Kyle Williams

| 6 years ago

Stories of the Season: Kyle Williams

“Ndamukong Suh is the best defensive tackle in pro football.”

That was the claim made by Tim Ryan on Sunday, shortly before Suh was fairly comprehensively handled by the Chicago Bears, owners of one of the league’s poorest offensive lines.

Or maybe you’re a Sunday Night Football kind of guy: “If there’s a better defensive tackle in the NFL, I don’t know who he is,” Cris Collinsworth said of Haloti Ngata. To be fair, Ngata had an excellent game, handing Rookie of the Year candidate Maurkice Pouncey a comprehensive thrashing.

But the best defensive tackle in pro football this year has taken an already strong game to a new level, and he plies his trade in the barren outpost of Buffalo on one of the worst defenses in pro football.

Get to know Kyle Williams.

It’s completely possible that you have not even heard of Kyle Williams, and it’s tough to get noticed when your team is stringing together losses while those around you on D continue to flounder. Williams hasn’t even been the best defensive tackle with his surname over the past couple of seasons — that honor goes to Minnesota’s Kevin, who has been just a hair better than Kyle on the whole since we started tracking games in 2008.

But Kevin Williams is likely going to wind up in the Hall of Fame, while Kyle Williams might not even go to the Pro Bowl this year despite being an absolute force.

If you’re a long-standing Pro Football Focus user you’ll be familiar with Williams, and how highly we think of him. He’s our leader in the race for Defensive Player of the Year through the three-quarter point of the season, although he’ll surely not even get a vote when the balloting comes to bear.

We have a soft spot for players that consistently do their job well, especially when that job is the less glamorous part of the game, the part that won’t show up in sack statistics, or interceptions.


He was a fifth-round pick by the Bills in an otherwise uninspired 2006 draft that produced Donte Whitner, John McCargo and Ko Simpson, and by October of that season he was firmly entrenched in the Buffalo starting lineup.

In 2008, our first full year of grading, Williams was our fourth-ranked defensive tackle overall, and a look at his chart shows a remarkable consistency that only a handful of players are able to produce in any given season.

His specialty was run defense, where he trailed only Chargers NT Jamal Williams — and like Jamal Williams, he notched only a pair of sacks that season in Dick Jauron’s 4-3.

In 2009, he took a bit of a step back, as did the league’s tackles as a group. He was less consistent and struggled with an injury at midseason, but he was still good enough to be ranked 11th overall in our DT rankings by season’s end.

He wasn’t as consistently dominant as he was in 2008, but was rarely badly beaten either. His Week 16 effort vs. Atlanta represented the only time in the 42 games of his that we’ve graded that he was poor vs. the run and pass in the same game.

But he ended the season with a strong effort vs. Buffalo, setting the stage for an unexpectedly extraordinary 2010 season that even Williams himself can’t have seen coming.


Williams has not just regained the form he had from the 2008 season here in 2010, but surpassed it in abundance.

In just 12 games he has already matched his sack total for 2008 and 2009 combined with five. Suh leads all defensive tackles in sacks (nine by our method), but Williams has eight QB hits to Suh’s four, and has pressured the opposition quarterback a further 20 times to the 16 of Suh. He’s also rushed the passer 347 times to Suh’s 413.

So you could certainly argue that Williams is Suh The Great’s equal as a pass-rusher — and that’s not even near the strength of his game.

Kyle Williams is at his best as a run stopper. At just 6’1, 306lbs, Williams doesn’t look like the hulking figures of Vince Wilfork, Jamal Williams, Casey Hampton, or Pat Williams, some of the best run-stuffers of the past few years. In fact, he looks like a bouncer at a local strip club, a guy who played some high school ball and maybe plays beer-league softball.

He is able to wreak havoc by beating blockers directly in front of him, and disrupting plays in the backfield. He doesn’t anchor, wait for the run to come his way, and then work on shedding his blocker to make the stop the way those players do, he attacks the run, and goes after it in the backfield. More remarkable, he’s done it despite the Bills tinkering with their defense throughout the season, playing 4-3 and 3-4 and giving Williams vastly different jobs on the interior line.

He currently tops our rankings with a +32.4 PFF grade against the run. Only one other DT has scored more than half of that grade (Aubrayo Franklin of San Francisco, +20.0). Similarly, his overall grade is off the charts. Sitting at a +41.7, his closest rivals (Jason Jones and Kevin Williams), have a grade of +23.6 and +21.7 respectively. Those are the only two players to have a grade more than half that of Kyle Williams. That’s how good he’s been.

Williams is playing this season on the opponents’ side of the line of scrimmage. He is winning his battles in the trenches and disrupting plays before they get a chance to fully develop. He leads all DTs in tackles with 46, and 41 of those have been defensive stops – plays that would constitute an offensive failure depending on the down and distance.

He burst onto many people’s radar screens with his performance against the Steelers in a game that Buffalo forced into overtime  and should have won. Anyone looking to see how Williams is so disruptive needs look no further than that game for a comprehensive showcase of what he does. Williams was far too much for Pouncey to handle at center, or Chris Kemoeatu at left guard, and he routinely found himself deep in the Steelers backfield, destroying plays almost as soon as they began.

One example of that came in the second quarter of the game.

With Pittsburgh up 10-0, and driving before the half, the Bills forced a 3rd-and-9 play from the Buffalo 47-yard line with 5.23 left on the clock. Buffalo needed the momentum that ending the drive would give them.

The Steelers lined up in shotgun, with four wide receivers spread out, and Mewelde Moore in the backfield. Kyle Williams was shaded to the left of the center, and at the snap he blew through the double team from Pouncey and Kemoeatu to sack Roethlisberger just 2.3 seconds after the ball was snapped.

Williams was still going strong in overtime of the same game.

With the Steelers facing 3rd-and-4 from their own 10-yard line, they again lined up in the same shotgun formation, with four receivers spread out wide, and Moore in as the running back, forcing the Bills into their dime package.

Buffalo again rushed just their three down linemen and an outside linebacker. This time Williams was shaded outside of the left guard, Chris Kemoeatu. Williams had been terrorizing Kemo all day with a variety of pass-rush moves, but this time he closed the gap between them and then just bull rushed the Steelers guard nine yards deep into the backfield. LDE Chris Kelsay came up with the sack on the play, but it was made because Williams was able to drive Kemoeatu so deep into the backfield that Kelsay found Roethlisberger directly in his path.

The Steelers were unable to cope with Williams all game, and it nearly ended up costing them a win against a Buffalo team which, though feisty, is still vying for the No. 1 overall pick in the next draft.

Williams received for that game the highest grade PFF has ever given out to a DT for a single performance, and it’s tough to overstate quite how dominant he was. He won’t match that performance every week, but he is proving to be a destructive force almost every week this season, causing massive problems despite often being the lone threat of any consequence on the Bills D.


The Pro Bowl voting has been well underway for weeks, and fortunately the fans don’t have all the say. Coaches and players surely know Williams’ name, and he’s got a good chance to overcome his lack of name recognition and wind up in Hawaii.

Haloti Ngata, Vince Wilfork and Richard Seymour are all big names at DT having good years in the AFC, but if you don’t have Kyle Williams as the first name on your ballot, you’re doing him a great disservice.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • MSauce

    Is there a rule about having to have the last name Williams to play quality DT?

  • Khaled Elsayed

    I think there’s a rule against being a Williams that means you have to play quality DT. Otherwise you have to give the name up.