Sunday, 11 August 2013

40 Players in 40 Days: Numner 19 Leonard Williams

After Bishop Sankey was revealed earlier tonight, the Top 40 Players in the Pac-12 for 2013 rolls on with one of the brightest young defensive linemen in college football. This young man graduated from high school only 14 months ago but that hasn't stopped him from quickly becoming one of the most dominant defensive players on the west coast. The 19th best player in the Pac-12 for 2013 is USC DT Leonard Williams. You know the drill by now, here’s a recap of the first 21 names on the list:

40. WR Chris Harper, Cal
39. OLB/S Dion Bailey, USC
38. S Alden Darby, Arizona State
37. OT Tyler Johnstone, Oregon
36. DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Colorado
35. S Deon Bucannon, Washington State
34. LB Shaq Thompson, Washington
33. DE Taylor Hart, Oregon
32. DT DeAndre Coleman, Cal
31. CB Terrance Mitchell, Oregon
30. C Hroniss Grassu, Oregon
29. DL Henry Anderson, Stanford
28. QB Kevin Hogan, Stanford
27. LB Carl Bradford, Arizona State
26. RB Storm Woods, Oregon State
25. QB Taylor Kelly, Arizona State
24. DL Cassius Marsh, UCLA
23. S Ed Reynolds, Stanford
22. OT Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah
21. TE Colt Lyerla, Oregon
20. RB Bishop Sankey, Washington

(photo cred: George Frey - Getty Images)

The USC defense was an unmitigated tire fire last season but that doesn’t mean the Trojans were without any bright spots amidst the rumble. Perhaps the brightest ray of hope was Williams who was honored as the Pac-12 defensive newcomer of the year after tallying 64 tackles (very high for a DT), 11.5 TFLs, 8 sacks, and 5 passes defended.

Williams’ athleticism and ability level is ridiculous. Here’s a quick little highlight film of Williams from last season. You can see he gets a great jump of the ball and uses his hands very well. His pass rushing moves and his block shedding ability is already elite which is rare to find in a true freshman. He has a long athletic frame at 6’5’’ which allows him to keep blockers at a distance and reach out and grab ball carriers. In the video you can even see him make a very smart play on his one interception last season. On screen passes, a lot of defensive linemen will get excited when the offensive line turns them loose and will go screaming after the QB and forget that they were let go for a reason. This is especially the case for true freshmen who routinely convince themselves that the offense has blown the blocking assignment and go looking to take the QB’s head off while taking themselves right out of the play. Williams makes a rare play for a recent high school grad though as he reads the blocks, finds the ball running back, and steps in front of him for the pick.

His length, athleticism, and movement skills make him a premier interior pass rusher but he needs to get bigger. He weighs only 270 pounds and was frequently exposed by bigger and more physical Guards in the run game. The encouraging thing for Williams is that he’s only 19 years old and still growing and with his tall and long frame, I think he has room to add another 15-20 pounds of muscle without sacrificing any athleticism.

He was put in a run stopping position last season in Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 but I think Clancy Pendergast’s new defense will really benefit him. Pendergast’s 3-4 (I know everyone at USC keeps calling it a 5-2 but that implies five defensive linemen on the field together at one time which would produce the slowest defense in the modern era. USC’s alignment is going to be a 3-4 that uses strictly 3-4 principles but always lines up with both OLBs on the line of scrimmage). In the new defense, Leonard will have more support around him to help against the run and he won’t be such a focal point on run downs for opposing offenses. Also, the ability to face up against Offensive Tackles and really use pass rushing moves instead of trying to shoot the gap between the guard and the tackle or the guard and the center should benefit him as well.

His production was good, especially for someone so young but it wasn’t Will Sutton good or even Ben Gardner good which prevents him from being higher on the list. Also being so young and having not yet truly grown into his body makes his placement in the top 20 a bit of a projection based on talent and future potential. However, I’m comfortable putting him here based on his future, especially considering at least one talent evaluator says he would be a top 50 prospect in the 2014 draft even though he isn’t eligible until 2015. Leonard Williams may hate El Paso,Texas, but with his potential and the other talented pieces at USC fitting into a system that better suits their talent, he shouldn’t have to go back to the Sun Bowl.

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