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Film room and free agency: Re-signing Trent Williams is priority No. 1

Trent Williams is undeniably the most important piece the 49ers can bring back in free agency, and they don’t have to wait.

Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

These aren’t necessarily in order of importance, but if they were, there’s a case to be made that retaining Trent Williams is the most important or tied for the most important priority this season next to upgrading at quarterback. As of right now, the 49ers and Williams are negotiating a new deal of some kind, and Trent Williams has expressed his desire to remain in San Francisco with the team.

So far, the 49ers have made two offers that have been turned down but have since cleared cap space by restructuring center Weston Richburg’s contract. Obviously, Williams should do what’s best for him and his long-term future and health, which is why the 49ers should reward him handsomely and make his decision an easy one. Plus, now they have the cap to do so.

Trent Williams was Pro Football Focus’s highest-graded tackle in 2020, edging out David Bakhtiari by a tenth of a point. He earned a puzzling grade as the ninth-best pass blocker among all NFL tackles and was the top graded tackle in run blocking (Mike McGlinchey was the 2nd highest graded tackle in run blocking). If players were paid on PFF grades alone, that would be more than enough to pay the man. But the film backs it up too.

Pass blocking

When watching Williams tape for 16 games, it’s tough to pick just one or two plays highlighting how dominant he is in pass blocking. You can pick any pass play and highlight how consistent he is in each game, and you’ll rarely find a bad rep. But I think two plays that highlight his traits can be seen in a snap against the Cowboys in Week 15 and a snap against the Seahawks in week eight.

Williams had several dominant reps versus Randy Gregory in Week 15, but this play, in particular, stands out as a play that’s technically and fundamentally sound. The play below shows Williams's great strength and ability to quickly neutralize the pass rusher’s ability to affect the play.

Gregory is rushing against Williams here from the defensive right side from a Wide-5 technique defensive end position. Williams takes a more diagonal pass set against Gregory’s rush, stays mostly square to the line of scrimmage, and is in a prime position to beat Gregory from an athletic stance throughout. Gregory tries to long arm rush Williams, but Williams is elite with his inside hand and catches Gregory with ease.

Gregory tries to gain leverage with his outside hand but whiffs, and at this point, the rep is lost. Williams tugs down on Gregory’s inside shoulder and takes the defender off balance. It’s only a three-step drop in shotgun, but it shows how quick Williams must be in winning the rep the moment the ball is snapped. The quarterback dropback in shotgun naturally increases the time the linemen must block, and Williams wastes no time being quick and efficient.

In Week 8 against Seattle, the following clip shows his elite awareness at recognizing and picking up the blitz.

The Seahawks line up in single-high coverage, showing man-to-man underneath outside on the receivers. They have a Cover-2 creeper pressure called. The cornerback comes off the edge, and the coverage spins to that side to account for the vacated zone. It’s a four-man rush with the defensive tackle dropping into coverage.

Williams recognizes the safety rotation down to the flat, and his eyes immediately go out to the corner as he slides to pick him up. He gets one up on the inside rusher to slow him just enough for Tomlinson to slide and pick him up. Williams uses the corner’s momentum to ride him past the pocket and giving quarterback Nick Mullens a clean throw.

The above clips show just how much of a wall Williams is in the passing game, and he did it against some of the league’s best rushers.

Run blocking

Williams's best work comes in the running game, where he can often be seen putting defenders on their back. If he gets in space, he will pancake the first defender in his vision.

Williams's presence at left tackle was felt right away in the running game in week one in his first start. The 49ers are running power to the left but with tight end George Kittle out of a wing position instead of the traditional running back alignment. Williams’ responsibility is to get to the second-level defender and seal off the inside since the defender outside of him will be kicked out by the lead blocker.

Williams gets upfield quickly and puts the linebacker on his back with a crushing block. It’s likely that blocker never makes a tackle on this play, but Williams made sure that wouldn’t happen.

Enjoy these run game cut-ups of Williams dominating defenders in the running game.

Outlook

The 49ers need to figure out how to ensure Williams is on the roster next season and in future seasons. There’s nothing else to dissect. It’s pretty straightforward. They should’ve gotten it done sooner rather than later too.