March 14, 2011
With the 2010 NFL season in the books (and a lockout battle now in the courts) it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. We've already done scouting reports of the top 40 players on our board, and you can read all the details on the first Shutdown 40 here. For the second Shutdown 40, players 41-80, we have the advantage of combine performances and that much more evaluation material.
Over the next few weeks, we'll also be adding Pro Day data when relevant. But we're always going mostly on game tape; the proper evaluation formula seems to be about 80 percent tape, 20 percent Senior Bowl/combine/Pro Day. If you see what you expect in drills, you go back to the tape to confirm. If what you see in drills surprises you in a positive or negative sense, you go back to the tape to catch where the anomalies may be.
We continue the second Shutdown 40 with Arkansas tight end D. J. Williams. At 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds, Williams may translate best as a hybrid "move" tight end or H-back at the NFL level, but there's no denying his potential and production. Leaving Arkansas as the NCAA's active leader in catches and receiving yards among tight ends, Williams took his impressive talent into the Senior Bowl and scouting combine, looking especially quick and fluid in drills on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium and showing outstanding hands during the week of practices at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
Though Williams caught 149 passes for 1,831 yards and 10 touchdowns in his collegiate career, it's entirely possible that he could do even more in the right NFL system. Especially in 2009, when he caught just 32 balls, his skill in running intermediate contrasted with quarterback Ryan Mallett's preference for the deep ball. In a West Coast-style system in which the ball is pushed forward from short and intermediate routes, Williams could be the epicenter of a passing game.
The challenge Williams faces is getting across the fact that he can be an every-down tight end despite his height. At Arkansas, learning to block consistently was the first step. "I got caught up in my sophomore year at Arkansas in catching 60-plus balls a season and I got real excited, and really didn't excel in blocking," Williams said at the combine. "And Coach (Arkanas head coach Bobby) Petrino didn't like that one bit. I worked real hard going into my junior year at becoming a better blocker. And my senior year I kind of put two and two together and became a complete tight end. Hats off to Coach Petrino; he gave me the right mindset and mentality to become not just a pass-catching tight end, but a run blocker as well."
Pros: Very crafty with quick passes at the line; Williams excels at getting up to speed in space, and he shows great escapability in getting upfield. Good route runner who makes excellent cuts — he doesn't round off his routes and he puts himself in a position to succeed when turning upfield. Good hands-catcher who will pluck the ball away from defenders even in tight coverage and with poorly-thrown passes.
Really does have exceptional discipline with his hands; understands how hands have to work together and he avoids body-catches. Run-blocks well upfield and chips effectively into his routes. Has a second gear once he gets upfield with the ball, and he showed his short-area quickness at the combine in the shuttle, 3-come drill, and catch drills. Determined player who requires far more than an arm tackle to being him down.
Cons: Decent, but not dominant, inline pass blocker who may run into trouble with speed ends at the NFL level. May not be physical enough to beat press coverage out of the slot as a pro.
Conclusion: Williams won the Mackey Award as the nation's best tight end in 2010, but also picked up the Disney Spirit Award, given to college football's most inspirational player. He is a very mentally tough individual who overcame an abusive childhood to excel in the game, but that past hasn't hardened him — Williams has gained the respect of coaches and teammates and is a self-confessed "Twitter junkie" who has a lot of fun but takes the game seriously.
When I was watching Senior Bowl practice down in Mobile, Williams kept catching my eye with his understanding of the little things — the right form on a seal block, getting the timing right with his hands to make an over-the-shoulder catch, and knowing when to turn on the jets and get upfield hear the sideline. Debited by most draft experts for his size — most elite tight ends stand three or four inches taller — Williams may very well have the talent to transcend those indifferent reports and become an A-level producer.
More Second Shutdown 40
#41 — Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia | #42 — Muhammad Wilkerson, DT/DE, Temple | #43 — Aaron Williams, DB, Texas | #44 — Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech | #45 — Rahim Moore, FS, UCLA | #46 — Martez Wilson, ILB, Illinois
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