Darrell Williams put together a surprisingly strong redshirt freshman season in 2016, but his general excellence did little to raise his profile in the eyes of casual observers.
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He was the third piece of the Tigers' linebacking triumverate — playing alongside two men (Deshaun Davis and Tre Williams) who finished with more snaps, more tackles, more impact plays. Playing in one person's shadow is tough; playing in two shadows all but guarantees relative anonymity.
Williams knows the feeling.
Still, he's not anonymous within the football complex. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele raves about Williams' ability to play all three linebacker positions competently and assuredly, which gives Steele latitude when considering defensive postures and plans. Williams probably is best as a weak-side guy due to his ability to rush the passer, drop into coverage and zip through garbage to make tackles near the line of scrimmage.
In fact, Davis floated the idea that Williams would be a fantastic Buck (end/linebacker hybrid) if given an opportunity there. Nobody disagreed.
Finding systemic weaknesses with Williams' game is difficult. He makes mistakes at times, but they're easily attributable to him keying the wrong player. That problem likely will fix itself as Williams logs more playing time in real games; 2016 was his first varsity season after all. He also seemed a bit overwhelmed when patrolling underneath zone coverages — especially against Mississippi State and Texas A&M — but, again, that's probably attributable to lack of experience. Williams was one of the nation's three of four best linebackers against the pass on the camp circuit in 2014.
Williams' biggest moment last season came against Vanderbilt when Davis was out due to injury and Tre Williams was ejected during the first half. That pushed Darrell Williams into the spotlight and he delivered with a team-high 11 tackles (nine of them solo) in Auburn's narrow victory. That game was a grind defensively; Williams' consistently physical presence was a game-changing development.
Will Muschamp's lone season as defensive coordinator paved the path for Auburn's linebacking corps to take a big step forward. He felt the defense was too soft in general and the key to setting a more physical tone was to collect thumpers at linebacker. Darrell Williams personified the things Muschamp demanded at that position — versatility, violent tackling, thick skin. It's therefore no surprise that Muschamp told everyone who'd listen that Williams was going to be a fantastic football player at Auburn.
If past is prologue, Muschamp will be correct.
ON THE UP SIDE: Versatility, tackling, pass rushing
ON THE DOWN SIDE: Experience, zone coverage
VOTING RESULTS: Bryan Matthews (10th), Jeffrey Lee (10th), Jay G. Tate (10th), The Bunker (16th)
2016 RANKING: Not Ranked
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