Throughout the pre draft process a few choice defensive tackles have been mocked recurrently to the Panthers in the first round. Largely unmentioned, DT Sylvester Williams, 6'3" 313 lbs., the former Tar Heel has seen his draft stock range fluidly.
Williams, a JUCO transfer, had a fantastic senior year statistically speaking, as UNC's nose tackle: 13.5 Tackles for Loss, and 6.0 sacks, though many pundits are wary of the fact that 7 of his TFL's came in August and September --against weaker competition.
The Panthers woes at defensive tackle have been well documented over the past few seasons, as the Panthers have abstained from addressing the position via the first rounds of the NFL Draft. Perhaps this is the year the front office opts to select a defensive tackle in the first two rounds. Sylvester Williams will be in that conversation; is he worth a first round pick?
When watching Williams it is readily apparent that he has an elite first step. Williams possesses great instincts for reading snap counts, and with lightning quick agility, and his trusty swim move, is often able penetrate into the backfield with ease.
Here is an example versus NC State.
Here Williams (location denoted by the red triangle) will be facing off versus the NCSU RG.
Immediately after the snap, Williams has exploded out of his stance. As the play is a running play, the offensive linemen explode forward towards the DL to clear running lanes. As the RG gets out of his stance, Williams is already inches away. Williams utilizes a swim move to dispatch the RG.
Thanks to his quick first step, and the perfect execution of his swim move, Williams is alone in the backfield before the RB even has the ball.
Like a wolf feasting on a lamb, Williams makes the TFL less than a second after the RB receives the hand off.
It's his great first step, his explosion, which gives Williams the edge over offensive linemen in both the running defense and pass rushing.
Similar to the one above, here is an example of Williams rushing the passer versus Virginia.
Again, Williams will be facing off versus a RG.
Note how much quicker Williams explodes out of his stance than his teammates. Williams is already executing a swim move before any of the other UNC DL have even crossed the line of scrimmage. Up until the point of attack, Williams does a great job of achieving proper pad level.
Successfully using a swim move, Williams has completely beaten the RG, practically knocking him over. Williams now has a relatively clear path to the QB.
Williams accelerates and sacks the QB.
Williams' great first step is also incredibly formidable in short yardage situations. Here is an example from the Virginia game.
On this very important down, 4th down and 1, inside the UNC thirty yard line, leverage, and a quick first step are critical.
Williams explodes out of his stance --before the offensive linemen have even got out of their stances!
Williams achieves great leverage: his shoulder pads are below those of the RG, and his speed has forced the Cavalier RG to erect a standing position. Williams uses a rip move to finish the RG off.
With the RG beaten, Williams is able to tackle the RB, preventing the Cavaliers from picking up the first down, and quite possibly keeping points off of the board.
Williams is also lethal against pulling offensive linemen, with his great first step, possessing the acumen to shoot the gaps presented by the OL.
On this outside sweep play, the Cavaliers will pull the LG --the man lined up overtop Williams. It appears as if the center is supposed to pick up Williams.
Williams gets off of the snap quickly, and with the LG pulling, doesn't have anyone immediately in front of him.
As the center turns to block the Tar Heel Lineman, Williams is already in the back field, closing in on the RB.
Williams makes the first contact on the RB, and pursues him to the sideline.
With his combination of speed and power, Williams also has a fine bull rush too.
Here again Williams is lined up as the DE in the Tar Heels one-gap 3-4 facing off with the NC State RG.
Williams gets off the ball quickly, and with good pad level, and great hand placement, jolts the RG backwards; Williams has won the leverage battle.
Williams puts the RG 'on roller skates' and walks him backwards five yards before shedding the blocker.
With his proper hand placement, Williams is able to disengage from the RG easily, and gets in on the sack.
Williams also employs a spin move, a fairly rare move for an interior rusher.
In this example versus Maryland, Williams gets off of the ball with good pad level.
Williams strikes first with his hands and then begins his spin.
The spin move fools the LG, and Williams is able make it past the lineman. Williams now has a relatively unobstructed path to the QB.
With Williams bearing down on him, the Terps QB has to flee the pocket and throw the ball away.
Similar to Sharrif Floyd, Williams gets into trouble when he doesn't employ proper pad level. Not a glaring issue, sometimes Williams will get out of his stance upright, which in part counteracts the advantage presented by his great first step.
Here is an example from the UNC Virginia Tech game. Williams will be working against the LG.
Once again, Williams exhibits his exceptional first step as he progresses towards the blocker. However, his pad level is poor. Williams shoulder pads are above those of the LG's.
With improper pad level, Williams is brought to a standstill; he's effectively taken out of the play.
Another complaint with Williams' game; Williams seems to rely to heavily on the swim move, which is his go-to move. After so much usage, offensive linemen become ready for it, and know how to combat it. Although, as we saw above, Williams does employ a number of pass rushing moves. With a little instruction, and some polishing, this should become a non-factor.
One of the most important traits for a defensive lineman to possess is a quick first step. As we saw above, if you're quick off of the snap, you're often in position to make a big play. It is very tough to teach a player to come off of the ball faster. LSU Defensive End Sam Montgomery is a solid defensive end; he possesses an array of pass rushing moves, he understands leverage, and he's a good handfighter; but he has an extremely slow first step, and is regularly the last lineman off of the snap. Consequentially, he has dropped into second round consideration. Sylvester Williams has an elite first step. Better than that of Floyd, Richardson, and Jesse Williams; equal or slightly better than Star Lotulelei's.
With his first step, Williams would fit in well as a penetrating 3-technique, but with his size, (313 lbs.) he could be developed as a 1-technique. Williams would be a good fit with the Panthers third down pass rushing defensive line, with Hardy, Johnson, Alexander. If Dwan Edwards returns, Williams would be a great rotational piece; if he doesn't, the Panthers have a sizable hole at 3-technique, as it has been leaked that the Panthers do not plan on tendering Andre Neblett.
As he matures, and works on the consistency of his pad level, Williams has the skill set to become a very good starting defensive tackle, capable of making an impact.
Answering the first question, Sylvester Williams is certainly worthy of a first round pick, and would not be a reach in the middle of the first round, where the Panthers happen to be picking. Should Carolina miss out on Lotulelei and Floyd, Williams would be a fine consolation prize.