Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but Fooch is a crazy person who manages this blog with no rhyme or reason and it's worked so far. Who am I to argue?
The San Francisco 49ers have a whole lot of questions that they can only answer when the regular season gets underway in September. We have no idea how the team is going to look along the offensive line, at the running back or wide receiver positions, at the inside linebacker position and now with Justin Smith calling it a career, the defensive line is a big question mark as well.
I personally feel that the success of the defensive line hinges on the nose tackle position. That might be an odd statement given the 49ers' lack of snaps out of their base defense in recent seasons, but I expect Eric Mangini and Jim Tomsula to place emphasis on the big guy in the middle once again and if things go the 49ers' way -- a longshot at this stage -- they have just the right big guy for the job.
That guy is Ian Williams. An undrafted free agent in 2011, Williams developed behind veterans and was eventually given a chance to start in 2013. He beat Glen Dorsey for that starting job, but he went down with a left ankle injury and had to be placed on injured reserve. Last season, Williams saw the field after Dorsey went down with an injury and played very well before sustaining a broken leg.
It's frustrating to see, especially given the fact that the first injury was the result of a dirty play -- the rule that allowed that play has since been changed -- and now we have to wonder if Williams will be the same player next season.
Taking a look at Pro Football Focus, Williams was given a positive overall grade in the games he appeared in last season (eight starts), including multiple games of above-average grades, against the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams in Week 3 and Week 6, respectively. I also had Williams performing very well against the Philadelphia Eagles and seem to remember him doing some good things in the second St. Louis game as well.
Williams is effective getting after the quarterback from the nose tackle spot, is a very effective run stuffer and he performs well against the double team. I think he has Pro Bowl potential when healthy and I tend to think he'll realize that potential next season. I imagine Dorsey will take snaps at the end spots.
Why he might improve:
Williams is healthy and while there's expected to be a free-for-all competition for basically every starting spot on the
offensive defensive line, I think he'll win the starting job at the nose tackle position. I expect the 49ers to take more snaps out of the base formation and think Williams will rise to the occasion with more snaps, no injuries and a productive season at the end of the day. He's still young, he's healthy and he's playing for a defensive coach.
Why he might regress:
Maybe Williams doesn't win out for the nose tackle spot, or maybe the injuries have truly taken something out of him. You never know how a player will look when he comes back from debilitating injuries, especially when it happens more than once. There's also the unlikely possibility that Williams isn't a good fit for Mangini's defense, but really I think injuries are the only thing that can get in his way at this point.
Odds of making the roster:
Williams is safe, or as safe as a guy can be if he's healthy. He's not expensive, he has a lot of potential and for now, he's healthy. I suppose some doubt to his health could lead to him losing his roster spot but that's not terribly likely. Aliens could always intervene and that would be disappointing but expect Williams not just on the 53-man roster come September, but in a starting role.