Every NFL offseason seems to get shorter and shorter each year. This year is no exception as teams have already started doing their homework on endless draft prospects and how to best fill their own team needs.
It is a given that the consensus of all draft experts and prognosticators have University of Southern California RB Reggie Bush, teammate QB Matt Leinart and University of Texas QB Vince Young being selected with the first three picks, respectively. When seven of the top 10 teams in the draft have new head coaches you can expect some interesting developments. Nonetheless, the 2006 draft will definitely see a run of top offensive prospects taken right from the start. At the same time, there are just as many talents on the defensive side of the ball in what many consider to be a deeply talented defensive draft.
One defensive player who will be drafted highly to help turn around some team's pass rush is DE Mario Williams from North Carolina State. When coaches and writers talk about the 6-7, 290-pound defensive end one of the most common words used to describe his athletic ability is "potential." While many still see Williams as a physical, raw talent, he has had a productive college career as well.
As a freshman he started every game at defensive end and led his team among defensive linemen with 56 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss of yardage, and five sacks. Upon making an immediate impact his freshman season he had similar success his sophomore season with 57 tackles, 15 for a loss of yardage, and six sacks. Williams would go on to terrorize opposing offenses his junior season by compiling 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for a loss. Teamed with fellow DE Manny Lawson, Williams helped form one of the most dangerous pass rushing duos in the college ranks last season where he led the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in sacks.
While statistics are one way of measuring talent, they don't always tell the entire story. For example, professional scouts may be intrigued that Williams easily added 20 pounds to his lengthy frame since his freshman season or that he can bench press 450 pounds without much struggle. That would certainly explain how he was named the Wolf Pack's strength and conditioning champion before the 2004 season. Scouts will surely be impressed by his power clean lift of 320 pounds and that his body fat is measured at only 6.5 percent. However, Williams is also a model citizen off the field, as evidenced by him winning the Bob Warren Award for Integrity and Sportsmanship his sophomore season. Either way, there is no doubt that Williams' ability to rush from the edge will leave endless scouts drooling over his "potential" to wreak havoc on quarterbacks.
It is believed that Williams could be one of the top five selections in the upcoming draft due to his pure and rare athletic abilities. He possesses unique size and speed with a large arm span ideal for blocking kicks or batting down passes. Williams has naturally quick speed as well as excellent acceleration which is necessary to rush the passer at the NFL level while being versatile enough to make plays all over the field. Some have compared his style and tenacity to Tampa Bay Buccaneers DE Simeon Rice, while others believe he has the skills to mimic the career of DE Julius Peppers of the Carolina Panthers.
One thing he has not been labeled is one-dimensional. Williams has superb range, strength and manages himself well at shedding blocks at the point of attack while applying pressure in the backfield. Due to Williams' balance and use of his long arms he rarely gets pushed around when defending against the run by warding off bigger offensive linemen. His high energy and hustle will certainly help him as he learns better technique against elite offensive tackles. One major advantage Williams has had so far is that he doesn't get injured easily, and he plays well with pain. If Williams isn't the youngest defensive end in the draft he will certainly be close to it as his birthday is Jan. 31, 1985. So the youngster doesn't have a lot of wear and tear on his body and should be able to gain or lose weight easily for any particular scheme.
Even though one of Williams' strengths is his speed, he will also have to learn to not let that work against him. The speedy defensive end must improve on his nose for the ball and not get caught over pursuing on counters, draws and reverses. Some critics have questioned his instincts, motivation and technique at times, which will be worked on by one lucky defensive coordinator soon. While his footwork and consistency will need some tweaking, he won't be able to rely solely on his speed and power as much as he did in college to become a dominant pass rusher.
Considered to still be a raw project with "potential" to be a franchise defensive end there are several teams that will consider drafting Williams early and possibly making him the first defensive player taken in the draft. Years from now some teams may kick themselves for not choosing him, but there won't be many because he should be drafted somewhere in the top 10 picks. Williams is projected to go as high as fourth to the New York Jets who stand to possibly lose DE John Abraham through free agency. However, many believe the Jets will look to fill one of their many other positions of need first.
According to most early mock drafts the Green Bay Packers are the team most expected to take Williams off the market with the fifth overall pick, which only makes sense. The Packers haven't had a consistently dominant defensive lineman since DE Reggie White. If the Packers elect to pick someone else, you can expect that Williams will be coveted by the Oakland Raiders who have the sixth or seventh choice (coin flip pending) and finished the season ranked 13th overall in defense. Regardless of which team selects who many consider to be the premiere pass rusher in this draft, it remains to be seen how much of an impact he will have in his rookie season.
If he goes to a team that has a solid defensive line and another speedy edge rusher he could be simply devastating to quarterbacks for years to come. At only 21 years old, he has the "potential" to develop into a Pro Bowl player in the future and continue to improve, as he has done every season. Time will only tell if he becomes a player that offenses have to develop a game plan for, but don't expect this rising star to fall out of the top 10 in the 2006 NFL Draft.
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About Mike McGowen
Mike joined the KFFL team as a contributor in 2005.
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