One of the most entertaining exercises a fan base goes through during the first couple years of an NFL player’s career is finding a suitable nickname for said player. Some are negative, like "Hologram" for Derek Newton. Some are positive, like "The JuggerWatt". Some are inherited before the fans even have a say, like the "NUUUUUUUUUUK" chant. Some are neither positive nor negative, but rather are indicative of some interesting trait or fact about a certain player. Considering that Trevardo Williams has done nothing to make me either jump for joy or break things in a fit of rage yet, I have settled on a moniker that really encapsulates the freakish athleticism that he flaunts on every single snap – "Bullfrog."
The name might not make sense at first, but after watching just two games of tape for 15 minutes, it becomes apparent that Williams may have in fact been a Gumby doll in a past life. Whether he is contorting his body in multiple directions at once while flying through the air, jumping off the line so fast that he literally looks like a frog, or being a ruthless hunter of quarterbacks, it is kind of hard to argue against his similarities to the amphibian killer.
I came into this article with a good level of familiarity with Williams, as I had already studied him during the pre-draft process. Below is a copy my scouting report on the young UCONN pass rusher based on four games against NC State, Rutgers, Syracuse, and Louisville (note: I was unable to pull GIFs from Rutgers or Syracuse because the site that I normally download my games from is offline at the moment).
+ Exceptional athlete with explosive capabilities from either a two or three point stance.
+ Has the speed to compete with receiving backs or tight ends down field.
+ Flashes as a pass rusher when he can take advantage of his agility and neutralize the tackle’s punch effectively.
+ Great lateral movement skills should help him do damage when stunting.
+ Good hip flexibility and natural bender on the edge.
+ Not tested in coverage, but his pure athleticism is encouraging enough that he should be able to pick it up quickly.
+ Some of the best burst off the snap in this class. Has frightening speed out of his stance.
+ High motor player.
-Lacks the size and lower body strength to really be effective as a run stopper against tackles. Often got swallowed up in the run game by bigger bodies, and really only had consistent success against tight ends when setting the edge.
-Prone to getting taken out by cut blocks.
-Subpar bull rush. Won’t be collapsing many pockets in the NFL.
-Shaky open field tackling at times. Despite athleticism, he was prone to getting juked by mobile QBs or whiffing on rollouts. Grabbed a hold of but lost grip on ball carriers occasionally.
-Hand usage needs work. Tried jabs and clubs regularly, but regularly missed his target and failed to neutralize the hands of his blocker. Tried to stiff arm tackles far too often when turning the corner despite having much shorter arms than most linemen and got washed out of a lot of rushes. Needs to work on hand eye coordination to really land all of his hand placements.
-Had a bad habit of stutter stepping before his moves to get tackles to bite, which often slowed him down or took out all of his power from his bull rush. Needs to quit the happy feet and just go full boar into the man in front of him.
Trevardo Williams is next in a line of freakishly athletic yet undersized defensive ends that will find a home in the NFL as a 3-4 outside linebacker. I liken him to a 2013 incarnation of Bruce Smith that won’t contribute much on early downs but could be a vital cog in his team’s third and long pass rush. His best fit in my opinion would be as a 7-tech rush linebacker in a base 3-4 where he can just focus on rushing the passer on every single down, but his athletic potential could lend itself well to 3-4 schemes that have their Sam linebackers drop into coverage regularly. His footwork will of course be raw considering he never dropped at UCONN, but his great hip flexibility and speed suggest he could pick it up quicker than most defensive end converts. I would even not be surprised if he does well as a 4-3 Will as his pursuit speed should lend itself well to chasing down plays from the back side or blitzing off the edge. His hands also need a lot of work and he really needs to develop a larger repertoire of pass rushing moves. As long as his role on the defense involves no stacking or shedding against offensive linemen, Williams should do just fine as a hyper athletic movable chess piece that can frustrate quarterbacks both in coverage and in the back field. He is certainly raw as raw can be at this point in time, but his potential is through the roof. A third round pick would be more than justified.
That brief report covers the gist of my thoughts on Williams, but I want to go in depth a little bit with what I saw on tape. For starters, I found myself very frustrated with Williams’ inability to stop the run whenever he was matched up against anyone other than a tight end. Bullfrog (yeah, I’m really going to push this. Bayless got #SwearInGerman so I deserve one too) has loads of strength for a man his size, but for all his relative muscular fortitude, it is just too much to ask of a 240-ish pound player to stop a 320-ish pound player dead in his tracks. Physics literally will not let that happen.
And no, gifted tackles from a combination of luck and poor blocking in other areas of the line do not count either.
Williams’ lack of size and power becomes even more apparent in his (lack of) bull rush ability. His leverage usually is not much of a problem due to his height, and he plays with good pad level on engagement most of the time, but he simply does not have the lower body strength necessary to drive himself through an anchoring tackle and jack them back into a rushing lane or a quarterback. Williams also has a bad habit of trying to simply jab or stiff arm a tackle around the edge to keep himself clean as he turns the corner; that makes very little sense to me, considering Williams has two inches fewer to work with on his arms than most offensive tackles. He might club the tackle’s free hand with his other arm just to make sure his chest is clear, but most of the time Williams’ first (and favorite) move was always to keep the tackle at bay with his inside arm while he worked around the edge with his speed.
It sounds nice in theory, and his speed was able to set up some great counter moves inside when tackles overcompensated. More often than not, however, Williams’ failure to use his hands as a weapon rather than a standoff tool cost him sacks. If he was lined up in the 6i technique, offensive tackles would simply widen their kick slide a little bit to choke off his path and then use their superior size and strength to literally shove him out of his trajectory. Only when Williams lined up even wider at the 7 or 9 techniques was he really able to get away with not having proper hand usage and just focusing on speed. Even then, he was still missing a lot of opportunities to make big plays.
The best pass rushers in the NFL are not only multifaceted in their ability to use both power and speed to get the job done, but they also recognize when to go around a guy and when to go through a guy. The wider they are, the more speed rushes they use because the direction of attack is more conducive to trying to burn the angle of the tackle’s kick slide. As top pass rushers line up closer and closer to the tackle, suddenly the geometric advantage gets smaller and they have to rely a bit more on power and hand usage to create a direct path to the quarterback. Bullfrog was all speed, all the time, no matter where he was aligned. Considering that Williams did not really have a power game to lean on when lined up in the 6i and 5 techniques, I suppose I cannot really blame him for just doing what he does best, but I can blame him for how poorly he utilized his power in the times when he did decide to bull rush.
The following two GIFs show Williams heavily mitigating his own bull rush by stutter-stepping off the line, which he did often enough to thoroughly annoy me. For starters, when Williams comes out of his stance to dance with the tackle, he is way, way too high to really get any leverage or generate any power. Second, the key to any bull rush is to not stop moving on the way to your blocker. The more momentum you have out of your stance (which is the entire point of a three point stance in the first place), the more power gets put into your bull rush. Stutter-stepping to try to fake out the tackle before throwing his body weight forward not only sucked up most of Bullfrog’s momentum, but it gave the tackle a split second longer to set his feet and anchor against whatever came his way. I get Williams’ line of thinking – he does not have much power, so he might as well try to throw some quickness into the mix. It makes sense on the surface, but when it comes to bull rushes, you either do it or you do not. There is no room to get indecisive.
Now all that being said, I did see something encouraging in Williams that is both uncommon and extremely entertaining to watch when harnessed properly – superhuman lateral agility. There were a few stunningly beautiful moments of athleticism in Bullfrog’s tape between the bad hand usage, failed bull rushes, and inexplicable stutter-steps where Williams showed what he really could become.
Below is one of the moments where Williams is lined up in the 7i technique. He comes off the snap hard and fast and angles towards the tackle like he is going to bull rush his outside shoulder. I really liked that Williams even turns his own shoulders square to the tackle in a subtle attempt to sell his angle. As the tackle starts to extend forward to punch and anchor for the coming bull rush, Williams throws down a devastating dead leg cut akin to that of Arian Foster and darts to the outside. The tackle is off his base at this point and throws his arms out in desperation, which Williams easily runs through before turning the corner for the sack. Now THAT, Mr. Bullfrog, is how you make up for a lack of power.
Rather than stutter stepping or trying to pretend his arms are long enough to ride an offensive lineman around the edge, Williams sucks his opponent into the bull rush by running full speed right at him. The tackle has no choice but to anchor against a power move, no matter how effective or ineffective it may be, when he sees it coming head on. Williams then uses the best weapon in his arsenal--agility--to take advantage of the tackle committing to the bull rush by altering his trajectory back out to the edge. It is one thing to be good at going through a tackle or around a tackle, but to achieve one by faking the other is especially satisfying.
That was not the only time Williams was able to take advantage of his lateral explosiveness and hip flexibility to nab a sack, either. Whether he was faking power moves, countering inside, or stunting around other linemen, Williams was able to make his presence felt all over the line with his lightning quickness. Even beyond his impressive lateral agility, Bullfrog was able to pressure the quarterback consistently with one of the most ridiculously insane get-offs in this class. If speed truly does kill, Williams has potential for one hell of a body count.
When you package vertical speed, horizontal explosiveness, and some of the few times when Williams really nailed his hand placement, you end up with something like this.
There is a lot that needs to be worked on with Williams before he becomes anything close to a complete football player. His run defense is unreliable if matched up with bigger bodies, his hands could use some MMA training, and we still have zero idea what kind of coverage ability Williams possesses when peeling off to the flat to take on a running back, but I’ll be damned if I am not excited to see Bullfrog take the field just to watch him rush the passer. As he really starts figuring out what the heck he is doing out there, the ceiling will only get higher and higher.
If I were to call Williams’ position right now I think it would have to be the 7-technique Sam linebacker. If lined up at Sam he would rarely face the right tackle one-on-one against a run play (that honor belongs to J.J. Watt) and would face mostly tight ends and running backs in pass protection as well. I still want to see Williams hold an edge against proficient blockers like Vernon Davis and Rob Gronkowski before being handed the job and allowing Brooks Reed to kick inside, but I like to think that 250-260 pounds is much easier to handle than 300+ pounds. At the end of the day, Williams is a pass rusher first and foremost, so if the threat of his edge speed is enough to keep tight ends from double-teaming Watt, then he has done his job. The more quarterback destroyers an offense has to worry about, the easier it becomes for everyone to get sacks, and by extension, stacks.