The 2013 NFL Draft may see the 49ers only looking to fill one or two starting spots with the rest of the draft focus being on adding quality depth. All of this of course depends of free agency and roster cuts. One of those starting spots could be nose tackle.
Starter Isaac Sopoaga is an unrestricted free agent this year and coming off a less than stellar year which actually saw him phased out of the defense (starting only nine games). It’s not unrealistic to think Sopoaga could be brought back if he’s willing to take a significant pay cut from his 2012 salary of $3.8 million.
The late season injury to defensive end Justin Smith also uncovered a glaring drop off in talent between first and second teamers. The biggest proof was All-Pro linebacker Aldon Smith’s inability to get to the quarterback after J. Smith’s injury. A. Smith recorded 19 ½ sacks prior to J. Smith’s injury and an astonishing zero after, even when J. Smith came back at less than 100%.
If many Niners fans got their wish, Alabama nose tackle Jesse Williams would be the selection at pick 31. The Aussie has anchored the defensive line for back-to-back national championships at Alabama and showed great versatility starting 13 games at the 5-technique end in 2011 and 13 games at 0-technique nose tackle in 2012. Oh and he also lined up in the back field in jumbo goal line and short-yard packages.
- At 6-4 320lbs, Williams has an uncanny ability to maintain leverage and absorb blocks. He’s a true two gap defender which makes him a perfect fit for the 3-4 defense.
- Plays with good pad level which allows him to show off his brute strength (bench presses 600lbs) and dominate in one on one situations.
- One thing I love about Williams is his motor. He does not give up on plays and can often be seen chasing ball carriers (If they’re lucky enough to get by him.) and attempting to make or finish a play down-field.
- Excellent run defender with ability to anchor the line at the point of attack allowing linebackers to come up and make plays.
- Lack of experience (he’s only played football in America for four years) can sometimes lead to issues diagnosing plays and guessing wrong. This is something he’ll need to work on as maintaining gap integrity is an integral part of anchoring a 3-4 line.
- Needs to improve his lower body strength. While he did well taking on combo blocks in the SEC, the NFL is a different animal and he won’t be able to rely on upper body strength alone.
- Needs to improve his conditioning if he’s to be an every down lineman. When he’s tired he often resorts to ‘hand-fighting’ and his burst of the line is stymied.
- Isn’t the greatest pass rusher but as a nose tackle his primary responsibility will not be sacking the quarterback.
Doing your homework:
DraftBreakdown.com does a great job providing video of many prospects. Check out the film on Williams against Texas A&M and LSU below. The video really shows his strengths and weaknesses well. Particularly in the A&M game where you can tell he clearly gets tired from the up tempo offense the Aggies run. You can also check out video against Tennessee from 2012 and LSU and Arkansas in 2011.
Why he fits the 49ers:
Should Williams be available at 31, the Niners should take him without hesitation. His lack of experience means he’s just scratching the surface developmentally. Since we saw a reduction of the nose tackle role in 2012, Williams would not be counted on to play every snap and could benefit from not having that pressure. He’s also versatile enough to slide over and give either Justin Smith or Ray McDonald a breather…something neither saw much in 2012. Williams’ strengths play right into the hands of the Niners’ overall scheme whose strength is obviously it’s linebackers. Williams will swallow blockers and take up space allowing linebackers to seek and destroy.
Why he might not fit the 49ers:
Williams isn’t the most athletic lineman in this class. A lack of athleticism can often be countered with sound football smarts. Williams guess wrong too often and takes himself out of the play. He can be fooled easily by misdirection and play action allowing blockers to get to the second level without much contest. The Niners rely on their lineman to keep blockers off their linebackers, if Williams doesn’t learn to diagnose players better the learning curve may be too steep to overcome.
What they're saying:
-Rob Rang of CBS Sports compares Williams to one of the best.
COMPARES TO: Vince Wilfork, New England Patriots -- Like the Patriots' run-stuffing nose guard, Williams isn't going to pressure the quarterback often but his size and strength will make him a force in the middle.
-SB Nation's Dan Kadar has Williams the #9 overall prospect on the SB Nation Big Board. Kadar also has Williams going #17 overall to the Pittsburgh Steelers in his latest mock draft.
-Check out Jesse Williams' stats at CFBStats.com
Should Williams be available at 31, the Niners may strike gold. He’ll likely be high on the draft board AND he’ll fill a major position of need. He’s projected as a mid to late 1st round pick and I have a feeling he’ll be passed by many ‘late risers’ and ‘combine wonders’ making it a growing possibility that he could be around when the 49ers are picking in round one. If he slides past 25, I wouldn’t be shocked to see a team trade up to grab him.