ESPN's Outside The Lines put together a nice little feature on 49ers rookie nose tackle Ian Williams from draft day to his arrival with the San Francisco 49ers. It's about six minutes long and it starts with Williams talking about his draft expectations. He felt he was likely going in the third or fourth round, which naturally left him in a bit of a depressed state when he went undrafted. Throw in the fact that he couldn't sign with a team until the end of the lockout and it's easy to see how tough the situation would be.
Williams quickly emerged as a bit of a fan favorite from the day he signed as an undrafted rookie free agent. As you can see in the video, one of the reasons he chose the 49ers was the potential playing time available if Aubrayo Franklin left as a free agent. It was a roll of the dice on Williams' part but he must have received some manner of reassurance from the teams.
Whatever the case, Williams' opportunity in San Francisco has reached a somewhat unexpected level. Along with Aubrayo Franklin leaving, Isaac Sopoaga has missed all the team's practices prior to yesterday, which means Williams and Ricky Jean-Francois get bumped up the depth chart in practice. Throw in Ray McDonald not being able to participate in the first week of practice and Williams was in an ideal position, operating as the first string nose tackle for a week.
This past Friday, Williams came on to start the second half in relief of starter Ricky Jean-Francois. Williams got significant playing time at nose tackle but did have to split his snaps with fellow undrafted free agent Sealver Siliga. Williams recorded three total tackles, with arguably his most impressive being on a screen pass to Joique Bell. He was able to flash some of his athleticism as he fought off his blocker to grab Bell and drag him down for only a three yard gain.
Overall, as with a lot of players on the team, we can't take a whole lot from the game. He did struggle a bit when it came to collapsing the pocket and getting some leverage against his blockers. In reviewing the game film, it looked like more often than not he struggled to open up much space on the more traditional drop-back attempts. At the same time, he was fairly solid against the run.
I'm not sure how his playing time will be affected when Sopoaga gets healthy, but he's going to be an interesting roster decision for the 49ers at the end of training camp. If Sopoaga is healthy at the end of camp, there won't be a ton of playing time for Williams behind Ice and RJF. At the same time, I really don't see the team getting him through waivers if they wanted to sign him to the practice squad. Even if he's going to be inactive most Sundays, the team likely will simply have to bite the bullet.