Just one year removed from taking a defensive tackle in the first round of the draft, could Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht do it again?
In 2018 the Buccaneers traded down from 7th overall to 12th and drafted Vita Vea, a nose tackle out of the University of Washington. This came after signing multiple free agents along the defensive line, including Beau Allen and Mitch Unrein, and trading for edge rusher Jason Pierre-Paul. That unit was of course led by a top ten defensive tackle, the stalwart Gerald McCoy. Vea was to be paired with McCoy to showcase a formidable, pocket-collapsing interior. Now, in 2019, the Buccaneers are again picking in the top 10, this time at 5th overall. Could they choose to draft McCoy’s replacement?
Quinnen Williams’ Career
Williams was a composite four-star blue chip recruit out of Birmingham, Alabama in 2016. He redshirted for the Tide that year, and saw his first action as a reserve/rotational player in 2017, recording twenty tackles and two sacks, including 6.5 tackles for loss. That’s not surprising, as defensive tackle is one of those positions where a player’s game can take a long time to mature. A lot of players have to lose their “baby fat” from high school, and mature into their frame. At 300 lbs, it takes a lot of time and work to not only add functional strength, but also to be a “good” 300 pounds and not a “bad” 300 pounds. Not only that, but hand technique can be a difficult thing to master. That’s why most college defensive tackles have the ‘light click on’ in their redshirt junior or senior seasons. Not so for Williams.
As just a redshirt sophomore in 2018, the young defensive tackle was often flat out dominant. He racked up 71 total tackles, including 45 solo, and a whopping 8 sacks. For perspective, former Nebraska and current Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh had 7.5 sacks his redshirt junior season and 12.5 his redshirt senior season, before he exhausted his college eligibility and went pro. 18.5 of Williams’ 71 tackles were tackles for loss totaling -84 yards, good for top 10 nationally.
Williams won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s top interior offensive or defensive lineman, was a first team All-American, and a finalist for both the Bronco Nagurski Trophy and the Bednarik Award, which are given to the nation’s top defensive player. He obviously decided to go pro early.
First, Williams is a good, explosive athlete for the position. At 6’3 303 lbs he has a great first step and his Combine measurables back that up:
He didn’t run the 3-cone or the shuttle, but tape shows that Williams also has excellent quickness and mobility throughout his hands and legs.
Second, Williams’ technique is good. Really good. He plays with very good leverage and his hand technique is excellent which allows him a variety of moves in his toolbag, some of which he’ll chain together, to shed blocks. He doesn’t have heavy hands so much as quick hands.
Marrying his athleticism and technique together gives him good balance and re-direction ability, which also gives him good lateral mobility as he works up or down the line of scrimmage. And because his closing speed is so explosive, that increases his tackle radius. On top of all of that, Williams has a tremendous motor and is smart with good football intelligence. He diagnoses plays quickly and puts together a plan to meet the ball-carrier. In other words, physically he’s your prototype 3-tech pass rushing defensive tackle while his advanced technique, motor, and intelligence will allow him to be an instant starter and 3-down player. It’s not hyperbole to state that Williams has a chance to be an All-Pro and a perennial Pro Bowl-type player and he seems like a lock to be a top ten pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
In terms of play strength and length, Williams is just OK. This means that interior offensive linemen with good arm length or powerful play strength might give him fits, as will double teams. He’s much more suited to a one-gap quick penetrating scheme and would only be OK in a two-gap scheme that asks him to occupy blockers. He shouldn’t be asked to play a 0 or 1-tech nose tackle role but he does possess the versatility to play elsewhere along the line of scrimmage.
Why The Buccaneers Need Him
Well, Gerald McCoy is on the wrong side of 30 and he has the largest non-guaranteed contract on the team. Finding his replacement means you could cut or trade him, freeing up $13 million in cap space. Or at least, $13m minus whatever his replacement costs. Regardless, that $13m represents a huge amount of opportunity cost. Getting that replacement player on a cheap rookie deal would save the team a lot of money for at least four seasons, and I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but the Bucs are cap-strapped right now. Getting some relief that can be used to fill in other holes on the roster could be a tremendous help. And the Bucs could do a lot worse with McCoy’s replacement than Williams. They are pretty similar players both athletically and in terms of play-style (they even had the exact same vertical jump measurement at the Combine).
Will It Happen?
It very well could. Finding McCoy’s replacement would make sense given Tampa Bay’s current cap situation, and at 5th overall the Bucs could easily have the opportunity to draft Williams. The biggest hurdle to drafting him would be if the Bucs like former Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver more, or if Williams is picked before the Bucs are even on the clock, something that’s well within the realm of possibility.