RENTON, Wash. -- Every draft has its mystery players -- those guys who, for some unknown or fully explained reason -- bottom out several rounds below their commonly accepted grade. One of those players in the 2013 NFL draft has to be Alabama defensive tackle Jesse Williams, who free-fell out of the first two days of the selection process, and found himself taken by the Seattle Seahawks with the 137th overall pick in the fifth round. That's a pretty precipitous fall for a guy who was projected by many as a first- or second-round talent -- a mainstay on a defense that led the way to two straight national championships. The Brisbane, Australia native is relatively new to the game, but the attributes that had us listing him at 35th overall on the Shutdown 50 were clear.
What was more nebulous was the condition of the knee he injured in the SEC Championship game against Georgia last Dec. 1. Williams proved his toughness by returning for the Crimson Tide's BCS Championship victory over Notre Dame, but he missed the scouting combine drills as he was recovering. However, at Alabama's pro day in March, Williams posted 40-yard dash times in the 4.84/4.92 range after missing the 40 at the combine due to a knee injury. Perhaps more importantly, he timed at 7.69 seconds in the three-cone drill, which would have ranked higher than some of the lighter defensive linemen at the scouting combine last month.
Apparently, that wasn't enough for many NFL front offices. Sources have told Shutdown Corner that while some teams were seriously concerned about the long-term viability of Williams' knee -- the word "arthritic" apparently came up in discussions -- others gave him a relatively clean bill of health. Beyond that, as round after round went past and no team took a gamble, it very well could be that Williams found himself in a nightmarish Catch-22. Those teams with interest, but legitimately wondering about his knee in the long term, may have backed away because he was still on the board.
In the end, Williams was a more-than-acceptable "risk" in the fifth round for Seahawks general manager John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll, who are very aware of Williams' potential if he can retain full health.
"He’s had work done in the past, but we understand what the situation is, just like our other guys that we deal with, but he should be all right, and we’re expecting him to be full speed," Carroll said on Saturday. "He worked out at his workout in Alabama, and he’s ready to go."
For Schneider, who runs the Seahawks' draft board, it was a no-brainer. Seattle made a trade with the Detroit Lions to move up a few ticks in the fifth round, and away they went.
"For us, he was sitting alone on our board," Schneider said. "Every year you have those guys that are supposed to go early, and they fall for different reasons and every team has to be accounted for where they take players at specific spots throughout the whole draft."
Carroll, who wants defensive players able to fill multiple roles, had an immediate idea where Williams could fit in.
"We like him to play 3-technique," Carroll said. "He played 3-technique and 5-technique more so last year, he played more on the nose this year, so he does have great versatility. We’re hoping that the mode we’ve been in with the big guys that he’s going to be really stout at the line of scrimmage at the 3-technique spot. The combination of guys that we can move through there now gives us a lot of flexibility. He is more like the big guys we’ve played with in the last couple of years, and so we think that gives us another new spot to fill with him. We think that he’ll play a lot of first and second down, and we’ll see how he pushes the pocket on third down, but right now that would be a great role for him to fill."
Williams was nonplussed by his fall, and brought another theory to the table -- in a draft class stacked with high-quality defensive tackles, he had a feeling he was going to slide.
"I knew I wasn’t a solid first round pick," he told the media by phone after he was picked. "I knew I was going to have to wait a little bit, and I waited a little longer than I expected, but I’m just happy to be with a good association and go to a good team and be in a place where I can help contribute to the Seahawks ... I was hoping to maybe sneak in to the second round. I had high hopes, but I was also being realistic. Like I said, I’m happy to wait as long as I needed to get to a good team, and somewhere I can contribute and help out right away."
The Seahawks, who grabbed their franchise quarterback (Russell Wilson), All-Pro lead cornerback (Richard Sherman), and high-ticket strong safety (Kam Chancellor) in the third round or later under Schneider and Carroll, may well have another epic draft bargain on their hands.