Four on the Forty is a four-part series that covers a different draft-eligible Texas Longhorn football player every week. The article gives a player profile, summary, NFL comparison and key strengths and weaknesses for each individual player.
It’s rare that an offensive lineman can garner headlines during an offseason at a university with the historical significance and reputation of the University of Texas. However, junior left tackle Connor Williams has done just that this offseason. With a chance to be an early first-round pick, the buzz surrounding Williams is everywhere.
It feels like it’s been a Texas-sized drought of Longhorns turning into first-rounders recently, but if Williams ends up going in the first 32 picks, it’ll only have been three years since the Patriots selected Malcom Brown with the last pick of the first round in 2015. However, if he goes inside of the top 10 (as projected by most), he’ll be the first Texas Ex since All-Americans Vince Young and Michael Huff in 2006.
Starting at left tackle since his freshman year, Williams combines all the traits you could look for in a blue-chip offensive tackle prospect. Experience, size, intelligence and work ethic are only a few of the many superlatives he possesses. With his stock at an all-time high, Williams’ name would be thrown around in preseason mock drafts as a potential no. 1 pick if not for the big names at the quarterback position expected to declare at the season’s conclusion.
You name it, Connor Williams is likely to have it. His 6’6 frame is prototypical NFL offensive tackle height. He possesses lengthy arms and massive hands which fill out his relatively toned upper body, while his tree trunk-like legs and giant butt (in a good way, and important to have) round out his lower half. In terms of natural size, he couldn’t be built any better.
In 2015-16 he was a member of the All-Big 12 Academic Rookie team and a two-time member of the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll. Not only does he show mental prowess off the field, on the field he has shown an ability to understand blitz packages and does a good job of making and changing calls at the line of scrimmage. His small amount of mistakes can be attributed to the amount of film preparation and the time he puts into mastering his craft, but also to his mental capacity to be able to translate what he sees into assignments he calls out. A lot of fans don’t understand what goes into an efficient offensive line, and it usually starts upstairs rather than in the weight room.
Williams has started every game in the last two years, making All-America teams in both years. This is important because it shows that not only did he arrive with the ability to play right away, he has sustained a level of excellence and durability over that span.
Outside of his natural ability, Williams’ largest strength are his feet. If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Blindside” or have even very little prior knowledge about scouting offensive tackles, you know quick feet and good footwork are HUGE for exterior offensive linemen. Being such large human beings who play against much smaller and faster defensive linemen, offensive tackles live and die by their feet.
This is mostly due to the fact that every single step matters. If a step is too slow or not correctly placed, a quarterback ends up on his backside. And you never want your quarterback there. Footwork is a skill that is refined and refined and hard to achieve. So to see a player as young as Williams have that under his belt is a good sign for teams in need of a tackle.
Connor also has a fantastic base. He can center his core and not lean to far over when trying to run block, which allows him to control his body and never take himself out of a play. Too often you see collegiate players block like they’re running a sprint, with their heads and hands out in front, and their feet behind them. Williams run blocks like a bowling ball, all at once. This is a trait you see a lot more of in the NFL than in the NCAA. Which is yet another good sign.
In addition to these, Williams has a trait that is unteachable. And that is his drive. Williams takes in all of his positives and matches those with his fierce competitive drive which is vital in the making of a great player. Rarely will you ever see him take plays off, hesitate or stop before the whistle is blown. This grit is what makes an ordinary player into an extraordinary player. Not many have it, but all the greats ones do.
While Wilson is long, he’s pretty lean. Listed at 288 lbs. you would like to see Williams gain 20-30 lbs. before he suits up for his first NFL game. Being less than 290 lbs. is fine to see at this point in the Big 12, but if he were at the next level or playing against some of the schools in the SEC, you’d prefer to see him at 310+. He’s long enough that if he were to put that weight on, it hardly, if at all, slow down his quickness.
Another knock on Williams is his hand usage and arm extension. Too many times on tape do you see a defender get into his chest and his arms wrap around the defender while trying to drive him down the field. Ideally you’d like to see his hands get inside the chest, attach and then have his arms extend. This is possibly because he doesn’t quite have the thickness and muscle in his upper extremities yet.
This falls in line with his first punch, which is most important when pass blocking. Truly great NFL tackles pack a wallop with their first punch. Williams does this too little too often. This is something that Williams can work on for next season, and something that can make him even more desirable.
NFL Comparison: Joe Thomas
Joe Thomas is everything Connor Williams has a chance to be. Built very similarly, with similar skillsets, Thomas and Williams are both definitions of iron men. Joe Thomas has been the starting left tackle for the Cleveland Browns since his first day and has never missed a snap. Williams has had a similar path in Austin, where he has “the guy” since he arrived on campus and never taken a game off.
Both players have quick feet and lean builds. Thomas’ exceptionally quick and powerful hands are the only stark difference between the two on film. And Williams definitely has time to add that to his skillset before he even steps on an NFL field. While Thomas, who has been the best tackle in the NFL for the past decade, is a lofty comparison for Connor Williams, with the right coaching, health and dedication, he has the chance to be a good replica.
Connor Williams has done everything right thus far in his career. Don’t expect a step back in 2017. With a brightened spotlight and offensive-minded coach, Williams has the chance to be one of the top NFL tackle prospects within the last decade and an All-American for his third straight year.