LEONARD WILLIAMS- 6’5, 290- JR.
USC’s Leonard Williams heads into the 2014 season looking to establish himself as the top interior pass rusher in the 2015 NFL Draft class. It’s really an unfair comparison, but you could argue that Williams is like the Jadeveon Clowney of defensive tackles; he’s got great size and elite athleticism, but he’s young and inexperienced enough that he hasn’t put it all together yet and still has plenty of room to improve.
Despite suffering a shoulder injury that caused him to miss a game and limited him for the last quarter of the season, Williams performed very well in 2013. While transitioning to a 3-4 defensive end role, Williams had six sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 74 total tackles. Those are very solid numbers, but it’s worth noting that they don’t quite match up to the totals that he put up as a true freshman in 2012, when he had eight sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 64 total tackles, plus four pass deflections.
There are two obvious explanations for this slight drop off: first of all, Williams was healthy during his freshman year, while he was limited by the shoulder as a sophomore and only had one sack through the Trojans’ final six games. Secondly, Williams worked full-time as a 4-3 defensive tackle in 2012. While he still played this position in sub packages during 2013, he spent a lot of time lined up head-up with offensive tackles in the Trojans’ 3-4, where he had a tougher path to the quarterback. Though Williams was able to better utilize his speed rush at this position, it didn’t provide him as many ideal opportunities for sacks.
Obviously, Williams needs to continue to develop his game as a junior this year. His athleticism alone makes him an intriguing first-round prospect, but if he can continue to build on the production that he’s put together during his first two years, expect him to be a very high pick in next year’s draft.
POSITIVES: Insanely athletic, has ideal size for an interior pass rusher… Great versatility- would fit well in any team’s interior, as he’s played both the 5-technique and 3-technique positions at USC… A pretty disciplined technician, gets to heel depth and doesn’t over-pursue, does a good job of backing up the weak side…quick lateral movement…long arms…very good closing speed…works well with his hands.
NEGATIVES: Not a good tackler, athletic enough to get to people but can’t consistently bring them down… gets pushed back by offensive linemen on way too many occasions… seems to get eaten up the further he moves inside, he does his best work from the edge.
2014 Outlook: Williams will look to have another great season as a junior, and he’ll hope to be devoid of the injuries that held him back in 2013. At least during the regular season, he won’t see the offensive line that projects as the Pac-12’s best—an Oregon group that features draft prospects Hroniss Grasu and Jake Fisher—but he will get to face a Stanford line that includes future first-round hopeful Andrus Peat at left tackle.
Talent Grade: Early-to-Mid First Round
Rams Role: Seeing as they took defensive tackle Aaron Donald with the 13th overall pick this May and selected Michael Brockers in the first round in 2012, it would seem unlikely that the Rams would spend another first-round pick on a defensive tackle. As we’ve come to realize, though, the Rams love to collect pass rushers, and if they end up parting ways with Kendall Langford after 2014 they may need to replenish the defensive tackle corps. The Rams will likely have greater needs in the first round, however, and they’ll certainly be hoping that they pick too late in next year’s first round to even have a chance at Williams.
Film Watched: vs. Utah (2013), vs. Arizona (2013), vs. Oregon State (2013), vs. Stanford (2013), vs. Colorado (2013)