Defensive lineman Leonard Williams is one of the top-rated defensive prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft. At the University of Southern California, he earned First-Team All-American twice during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, and earned PAC-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in the 2012 season. Williams dominated offensive lines collecting 80 tackles with 9.5 for loss, 7.0 sacks, an interception, and three forced fumbles in his final season at USC. As the Redskins prepare to switch to the 3-4 Under defense, there are still question marks on the defensive line. Many project that Williams will be drafted before reaching the number five pick, but the Redskins are still doing their due diligence hosting him in a private workout this week. In this film breakdown let’s take a closer look at his game play and how he fits into the Redskins defense.
In this first play, Williams rushes from the 3-tech across from Cal’s right guard showing his pure power and length. He instantly engages with the right guard and bullrushes him back in the pocket. The right guard sits into his pass block moving his weight forward to slow down Williams. Williams recognizes this and executes a bull-jerk to disengage from the blocker to hit the quarterback right after he releases the football. Williams does a good job of piecing multiple moves together, but he needs to execute the jerk sooner to disengage the blocker mroe quickly.
In this play, Williams rushes from the 2-technique lining up directly across from the Cal’s right guard and uses a swim move to knife through through the strongside A-gap between the center and the right guard.
Here Williams lines up as the 3-tech weakside defensive end position as Cal pulls the right guard who is lining up across Williams. The center is supposed to down block Williams, but Williams uses his superior athleticism shooting the opening between the center and the right tackle. Williams initially misses the tackle on the running back in the backfield, but uses his motor to tackle him from behind for a minimal gain.
Here is a play showcasing Williams’ run defense versus Cal as he lines up as the strongside 5-technique. Cal runs a dive pulling the right guard across the shotgun formation.
Overall, Williams is a superior prospect because of his length, power, and burst off of the line of scrimmage, but he sometimes late off of the snap. Here is a play showing this. Right off the snap he’s 0.5 seconds behind which makes him lose leverage instantly on a play going his direction.
Also, sometimes he’s late in recognizing handoffs on read-option, which will be a problem especially against teams like the Eagles, Seahawks, or Panthers who use it as a part of their playbook.
Where Does Williams Fit?
Let’s revisit the Redskins current roster and the 3-4 Under defense:
Image courtesy of BleacherReport’s Matt Bowen.
Strongside Defensive End – 5-tech, responsible for the strongside C-gap
- Jason Hatcher (32)
- Frank Kearse (26)
Nose Tackle – 1-tech, strongside A-gap
- Terrance Knighton (28)
- Chris Baker (27)
- Kedric Golston (31)
Weakside Defensive End – 2/3-tech, weakside A and B gaps
- Stephen Paea (26)
- Ricky Jean-Francois (28)
So where exactly does Williams fit? Williams is 6’5″ 300 lbs with strength at the point of attack, ideal arm length, and burst off of the line of scrimmage where his versatility allows him to play multiple positions on the Redskins defensive front.
First would be 5-tech 1-gap strongside defensive end where he could learn better pass rush techniques from veteran Jason Hatcher. Also, since Hatcher’s contract becomes more and expensive relative to his value on the field, Williams could be his replacement in 2016 or in 2017 if the Redskins decide to part ways with him as they don’t currenlty have anybody on the roster that can play the position outside of him. Hatcher currently plays about 50% of the defensive snaps as it is according to ProFootballFocus. Williams could play the other 50% of the snaps since his run defense is astounding, while learning the nuances of pass rushing from Hatcher. This is the premiere position on the defensive line, so spending a top 5 pick on the top rated player would be very smart.
Another place the Redskins could put Williams at is the 2/3-tech weakside defensive end position holding the 2-gaps. This spot is currently projected to go to Stephen Paea, but the Redskins could use Williams here if Paea gets injured or as depth.
Additionally, the Redskins could use a variety of exotic 3rd down blitz packages where they could line up the Redskins in a 4-2-5 Wide 9 alignment with Hatcher playing the 3-tech and Williams playing the 2i-tech position allowing Murphy and Kerrigan to rush from the far edges. It’s this versatility in Williams game as he lined up all over USC’s defensive line that makes him even more valuable than a pure edge rusher. Even though I highly doubt Williams falls to the fifth pick, the Redskins would be very smart to draft him unless they received a substantial offer for the position to trade down in the upcoming draft.
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