Vanderbilt Standout Keeps Quarterbacks Clean

The Seahawks' free agency acquisitions have allowed their personnel office to focus on the best player available in the 2008 draft. Given the eventual need for a new left tackle, and Tim Ruskell's appreciation of the SEC, it's possible that Vanderbilt's Chris Williams could be in the right place (Seattle's draft board) at the right time (the 25th overall pick).

Two sacks in two years.

That's how many quarterback takedowns Vanderbilt's Chris Williams allowed in the 24 games he played at left tackle in 2006 and 2007. There are many reasons he's considered the best lineman in the history of his school, but that's a pretty good place to start. After redshirting in 2003, playing on the scout team in 2004 and alternating between tackle and guard in 2005, Williams found his niche with the full-time switch to the left tackle position in 2006.

Participating in the SEC wars, Williams' technique has developed to the point that he's become an almost impenetrable pass blocker. NFLDraftScout.com reports that his consistency blocking grade of 85.67 percent was the SEC's best.

Williams' third-team All-American mention after the 2007 season, and first-team conference nod, were augmented by a great week at the Senior Bowl. He was one of the most notable performers throughout the practices, and he enjoyed a solid performance in the game. "I didn’t surprise myself, I knew I could play well," Williams said at the 2008 Scouting Combine. "I talked to my offensive line coach before I left and he just said go do what he taught me, go do what I do well. I just went down there and had fun and played well."

Though his college used to be unheralded from an NFL recruiting perspective, the recent ascent of current Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler really put the Commodores on the map. Does he see the difference? I’m sure he helped a lot," he said. "To be able to throw a name like Jay Cutler around probably helps a lot in recruiting. It can be like, ‘Jay Cutler went here, a lightly recruited guy, come in and be able to get drafted, what, 12th overall, basically anybody can do it, I guess."

And while teammates Earl Bennett, Jonathan Goff and Curtis Gatewood are trying to make their mark, there's no question that most of the focus in on this 6'6", 315-pound mountain of a man. It's not only his technique, but also his versatility that sticks with scouts. Like many of the current tackle class, Williams can move to guard if need be, though the consensus seems to be that his athleticism would be slightly wasted inside.

"Yeah, I play anywhere," he said about his college career, and how different opportunities presented themselves. "I think it helps to be able to fill as many roster spots as you can. Teams typically travel (with) about seven offensive linemen, so if you can plug in different places, you’re got a lot more value to the team, especially if you’re not a starter."

It's really at left tackle that he'll shine, and the nation got a good look at his prospects when he arrived in Mobile to prepare for the Senior Bowl. He played both tackle spots and at left guard, showed a bit of a learning curve with more unfamiliar positions at first, but displayed his intelligence and determination when he was able to quickly recover after losing a play.

What seems to be the only debit against Williams is the notion that he's more technique and pass-blocking, and his mean streak -- and ability to run-block and take on bull-rushes -- may not be developed enough. Williams, as proud as he is of his ability to perform at a level that has drawn comparisons to D'Brickashaw Ferguson, believes that the nastier side of his game hasn't been discussed enough.

"Offensive line is a tough position, it’s not always about talent," he said. "It’s about can you play through pain, can you play though injuries, can you play every snap. So it’s not a position where people rotate a lot. I haven’t had anyone ask me about it, but it’s obvious you need it.

"I play hard, I think I am a balanced player. I’m probably a little better at pass blocking than run blocking, but I’m balanced, I think I can do anything in any system."

Williams may not be getting the same number of warm fuzzies that other potential first-round tackles are from analysts -- he seems to be the respected but forgotten member of this great group of offensive linemen -- but he may also be among the best pure left tackle prospects because of his hard work and pure technique. If he can fill in the few blanks, it's quite possible that the teams who will watch Chris Williams drop to the second half of the first round will later regret not making the move.


Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET, a staff writer for Football Outsiders, and he writes NFL previews for the New York Sun. Feel free to e-mail Doug here.

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