With the 2010 NFL season in the books (and hopefully a new CBA soon in the works), 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 Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams. Williams' 2009 season was tremendously impressive - he burst on the scene with 1,655 yards on just 293 carries (a 5.6 yards per carry average) and 21 rushing touchdowns - he also added 16 catches for 180 yards. In 2010, the 5-foot-9, 212-pound Williams missed four games with a hamstring injury, rushing for just 473 yards on 106 carries. He also caught 10 passes for 109 yards, but Williams really left people wondering about his decision to go pro after a disappointing season. His 4.59-40 at the combine didn't help his case, though his 1.53-second ten-yard split was one of the most impressive times among all running backs.
The question for NFL teams will be which Williams they'll be getting - the 2009 stud, or the 2010 disappearing act? From what I've seen, based on his game tape and if he's fully healthy, Ryan Williams could be one of this draft's true sleepers.
Pros: Extremely quick out of the blocks on draws and traps; Williams explodes through the pocket and gets to and through the gap in a hurry. Despite that speed, he's also very patient out of I-back runs - he knows how to wait for things to open up and he'll place himself behind the fullback and wait to hit that extra gear. Bounces outside with excellent agility and nearly full speed and his cuts to bail out of second-level tackling are very quick. Extremely quick to the outside on zone slides. Williams is also a good inside runner for his size because he'll fight after first contact. Ran angry at the combine, and he plays that way as well.
Can catch screens, swing passes, and short upfield passes in stride; this is a complete back who can play every down. Doesn't give up if he's trapped to one side - Williams can double back quickly and find a gap to the other sideline. Excellent cutback runner who's looking for an opening and an extra yard from snap to whistle.
Cons: There will be questions about his durability and whether hamstring injuries have affected his burst, though his 10-yard split put those to rest to some degree. However, he doesn't have true breakaway speed and you'll see cornerbacks catch up to him more often than not (this was true before his injuries as well). Williams was helped to a degree by the fact that opposing defenses had to key on quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and he would most likely be more successful in a system with a mobile quarterback who can get outside and run. Needs work as a blocker.
Conclusion: There are those who will tell you that this year's running back class is the Mark Ingram Show, and while I wouldn't want to discount the talent that makes Ingram this year's best draft-eligible back in a prospect sense, I keep thinking of Ryan Williams as the sneaky guy who could flash up over the next few years in the right system and become one of the NFL's elite backs. Assuming his health checks out through the process and there are no recurring issues, I'm of the belief that Williams might wind up as the best NFL back in this class.