Summary: The NFL is always searching for defensive tackles who can get to the quarterback. The fastest way to pressure a quarterback is from the inside. A disruptive inside presence that gets on to quarterbacks quickly or blows up running plays can wreck game plans. With that in mind, defensive tackles like Sylvester Williams will always be in demand.
Williams started out his collegiate career in the junior college ranks before landing at North Carolina. He was impressive in his debut season for the Tar Heels. He had 54 tackles with seven tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, one interception and a forced fumble in 2011, and he was better than the numbers indicate. Williams displayed nice speed, strength and a lot of upside.
In 2012, Williams started out the season strong before a quiet second half of the season. There were some good weeks and bad weeks for Williams as he had an ugly performance against Louisville, but destroyed Virginia. He finished the year with 42 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks in 12 games. That is a very good sack total for a defensive tackle, though one concern with Williams is four of those six sacks came against Elon, East Carolina and Idaho.
Williams has a very good skill set to potentially be an impact starter in the NFL. He is very quick and has good size. Williams can over power the weaker interior linemen, while the heavies struggle with his speed. At the Senior Bowl he showed the ability to beat guards with speed or strength. He could use more refinement for his pass-rushing moves, but Williams has some natural ability in that regard. He should add a rip and club move to go along with his speed and bull rushes.
Williams generally does a good job of holding his ground at the line of scrimmage in run support. For the most part, he maintains control of his gap. Williams is at his best when he attacks upfield to disrupt runs in the backfield rather than stacking and shedding at the point of attack.
Even though he didn’t play a full four seasons of big-time college football, Williams saw some nice preparation for the NFL in practice the past two seasons. North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper is a first-round pick and was one of the best guards in college football. Cooper and Williams gave each other big challenges in practice.
The big criticism about Williams is he is very streaky. There are stretches where Williams is utterly dominant. He can take over games and make it hard for the offense to generate plays with positive yards. Then there are other stretches where Williams is a ghost. Inferior offensive linemen are effective blocking Williams and making him have zero impact. In order for Williams to be more consistent, he needs to land with a good defensive line coach, and it would also help if there were some productive veteran players to show him how to get it done in the NFL.
Williams’ best fit comes in a 4-3 defense as a three technique who fires his gap to get penetration in the backfield. He has the bulk and strength to execute as a two-gap defensive tackle as well. While Williams isn’t a natural fit as a 3-4 defensive end or nose tackle, he could function in a 3-4 if he’s drafted into that scheme.
It looks like likely Williams will go in the 20-40 range of the 2013 NFL Draft. If he were more consistent in the second half of his senior season he could have challenged for the top 20.
Player Comparison: Jonathan Babineaux. In recent years, Babineaux has been one of the better defensive tackles in the NFC. Babineaux is a quick, disruptive defender who makes his presence felt behind the line of scrimmage. At times, Williams’ game resembles Babineaux’s, but the Atlanta defender is more consistent. The Falcons selected Babineax (6-2, 300) in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft out of Iowa. Williams could go higher but also could slip to Round 2.
NFL Matches: Minnesota, Denver, New England, Atlanta, San Francisco
A number of teams could dip into a strong class of defensive tackles late in the first round and early in the second round. Williams will definitely warrant consideration from both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses.
The Vikings would be a good fit for Williams. They need a tackle upgrade next to the aging Kevin Williams. Sylvester Williams pass rush ability would provide some continuity to the Vikings defense after Williams hangs it up.
Denver added some veterans in free agency, but it also could use a defensive tackle with pass-rush ability. Quarterbacks step up in the pocket to avoid their edge rushers, so a tackle like Williams could help create more sacks for the Broncos.
New England could use a young interior lineman. They need a complement to aging Vince Wilfork. Williams could function well in the Patriots’ scheme.
The Falcons could use a young tackle to pair with Babineaux. Atlanta has to upgrade its pass rush, and Williams could be the best pass-rusher available when the Falcons are slated to pick.
San Francisco needs an understudy to Justin Smith. Williams isn’t an ideal fit for what Smith does for the 49ers, but he could warrant consideration as injury insurance and an eventual replacement.
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