Eagles’ Milton Williams’ position change vaulted him into NFL Draft

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How Milton Williams changed positions and vaulted into NFL Draft originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Milton Williams looked at him like he was crazy.

At least that’s how Anthony Camp remembers it. Williams was already off to a successful start to his college career — he led his team in sacks in 2019 — but here was his new defensive line coach telling Williams that the Bulldogs, under new defensive coordinator David Blackwell, wanted to move him to interior pass rusher for the 2020 season.

It wasn’t news that Williams wanted to hear at first, Camp told NBC Sports Philadelphia this week.

But it didn’t take Williams very long to come around. It just took some mild convincing from Camp.

“I told him the path to the quarterback is a lot shorter (inside) than it is from the edge,” Camp said.

“With his athleticism and quickness, I told him, ‘You are going to be a mismatch problem for offensive guards.’ Because you take that speed and that power, which is great on the edge … You do that on a down-by-down basis on the inside, there’s nobody in the country that could block him.”

Turns out, Camp was right.

It didn’t take long for Williams to buy in and he ended up having a very good 2020 season that led to the Eagles’ taking him in the third round (No. 73) in the draft.

Williams finished 2020 with 4 1/2 sacks in 10 games but Camp thinks Williams could have had a double digit season. That’s how well he showed out on tape on his way to leading the Bulldogs in sacks, tackles for loss and a first-team All-Conference USA nod.

And he did it mostly from a new position.

“I feel like it just gave me an opportunity to learn, to learn another position on the defensive line and get more versatility in my game,” Williams said last week. “I feel like that’s one of my best traits as a defensive lineman, being somebody you can play at almost any position on the defensive line and be protective. This past year just playing inside and getting used to seeing block combinations and things like that, I think it helped me a lot.”

Williams’ Louisiana Tech bio listed him at 278 pounds but he actually didn’t dip below 280 all of last season and played most of the year at around 285, which is how much he weighed for his incredible performance at the Louisiana Tech pro day.

Camp said he talked to Williams this week and the third-round pick was up to 291 pounds.

“I’m comfortable with where I am right now,” Williams said just before Eagles rookie camp. “If I need to gain, I’m pretty sure they’ll let me know. But that’s their decision. Whatever I need to do to fit in with the Philadelphia Eagles, I’m going to get it done. Lose weight, gain weight, it don’t matter.”

Whatever Williams does weight-wise, the Eagles will want to make sure it doesn’t negatively affect his athleticism. Because there’s no question the 22-year-old is an absolute physical freak. His numbers at the LA Tech pro day proved that.

Going into that March 18 pro day, Williams had some major goals in mind. He wanted to top the numbers three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald registered at the 2014 NFL combine. Williams fell just a couple bench press reps shy of a clean sweep.

“That was one of the reasons I decided to come out this year,” Williams said the night he was drafted, “because I knew I was going to be one of the most athletic defensive tackles in the draft class.”

Williams isn’t a finished product, but he’ll come in as a rotational player behind Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave. The Eagles clearly thought about his upside … and there’s a ton of upside.

Camp said the NFL teams that called him wanted to know about Williams’ character and in that respect he had nothing negative to say about him. He described Williams as a hard, diligent worker, who’s focused only on football. When teams pressed him for a negative, the only thing Camp could come up with was that at the start of the 2020 season Williams wasn’t a great note-taker in the meeting room, something that he corrected along the way.

Because of COVID-19, Williams basically had to learn how to play on the interior D-line on the fly last year without spring practices. He had just one fall of playing a new position and became a third-round pick. Williams still has things to learn; Camp pointed out the emphasis on his footwork against the run. But the potential is there and his college coach thinks Williams’ best football is still ahead of him.

“From a strength standpoint, from an explosion standpoint, he’ll be fine,” Camp said. “I really do think his growth as a pass rusher is going to be exponential in the next couple years.”

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