Connor Williams isn’t your average offensive lineman.
Growing up in Coppell, the former Texas Longhorns standout was bullied by his peers in middle school before turning to weight lifting to reshape his body and prepare himself for his high school football career. As a result, Williams was able to come to college stronger and more driven than his peers. And with a more interesting story.
Williams quickly surpassed expectations when he arrived in Austin in 2015 — he was a consensus three-star prospect ranked as the No. 44 offensive tackle. There were some high hopes for him, for sure, as a result of size, athleticism, and strength, but those hopes were nothing compared to what he quickly accomplished.
By the first game of his career, he was already the starting left tackle for the Longhorns. In starting all 12 games, Williams became a freshman All-American. Now there were finally some serious expectations for Williams as a football player.
During his sophomore season, he lived up to them, drawing buzz as one of the top offensive tackles in the 2018 NFL Draft if he decided to leave after his junior season. In particular, Williams helped running back D’Onta Foreman win the Doak Walker Award by opening gaping holes on the left side and and was equally dominant in pass protection. In allowing only four pressures and one sack in 423 snaps in pass protection, Williams ranked tied for first among all returning FBS tackles. His run blocking grade was the highest among all returning FBS tackles.
Then, Williams finally encountered some adversity during his junior season. He had some uncharacteristic and critical holding penalties in the opener against Maryland and then went down with a knee injury against USC. Instead of opting for surgery that would have ended his season, however, Williams battled his way back, eventually looking like himself again against West Virginia. After the regular season ended, he declared for the NFL Draft.
At the NFL Combine, Williams posted impressive numbers, though he doesn’t quite have ideal arm length — a 5.05 40-yard dash, a 34-inch vertical leap, and a 4.63 20-yard shuttle. There’s no question that Williams is one of the best athletes among all offensive linemen in the draft this year.
At 296 pounds, Williams appeared to drop some weight between the end of his senior season and the NFL Combine to maximize his testing numbers. He’s extremely lean for his position, but he was able to achieve his 2016 success in pass protection about 15 or 20 pounds heavier than he is right now.
The concern for scouts is that his lateral quickness and overall level of success dropped in 2017, even before his injury, an odd development that is hurting the draft stock of Williams as some draft analysts wonder whether he has the length to play outside at tackle. The fact that Sterlin Gilbert’s offense in 2016 helped Williams out by using play action on more than half of all dropbacks kept opposing defensive ends from teeing off with speed rushes probably contributed to some his 2017 issues.
Still, Williams has plenty of strength and has always played with good technique, which helps project him as a contributor at any offensive line position. He also has some nastiness to his game and is willing to work hard until the whistle. And because he’s so athletic and has such good technique, he’s excellent pass setting and isn’t generally susceptible to bull rushes because he can sit in his cylinder and anchor well. Good balance also helps him in that regard.
Oh yeah, and Williams also has heavy hands in pass protection and in run blocking that help him finish defenders once he uses his understanding of proper hand placement to attack defenders in the proper spot.
The bottom line though is that Williams regressed significantly as a junior and that has scouts seriously concerned. Williams may have been able to answer some of those questions with his NFL Combine performance and individual workouts, but his 2017 film is hurting his draft stock.
As a result, a player who once seemed like a look to go in the first round could drop out of the first day and go early in the second round. Still, whatever happens in the next several days, Williams will become the first Texas offensive lineman drafted since 2008, ending an ignominious run for the program.