Alabama’s rise in the college football world has been nothing short of spectacular. In an age where recruiting regulations attempt to prevent a college football monopoly, the Alabama program has successfully developed into one of the greatest dynasties of all time. As impressive as the Crimson Tide has been since Nick Saban took over the program in 2007, what’s even more impressive is how they have succeeded without an elite pass rusher. At least, that was the case until Tim Williams enrolled during the summer of 2013.
Tim Williams was a relatively unknown prospect when Alabama first discovered the athletic, lean 9th grader out of University Lab in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Even at such a young age, the coaching staff saw something in him and ultimately decided he was a "must have" player down the road. By the time Williams was a senior, he had developed into one of the top ranked players in the state of Louisiana.
At 6-3 225, Williams was undersized for a defensive end but he made up for it with outstanding athleticism. His first step was universally talked about among recruiting circles, and he was sought after by almost every major program in the country. Even though a lot of people assumed that Williams would stay close to home and join the LSU Tigers, he made quite the splash when he committed to the University of Alabama on January 14th, 2013.
By getting in early on a big-time prospect like Williams, Nick Saban proved that age-old saying once again — the early bird gets the worm.
Williams’ career at Alabama got off to a slow start. Like most players that come through the program, Williams was buried on the depth chart behind a ton of talent and needed time to develop. He finished his freshman season with only three tackles — one for a loss — in seven games.
It wasn’t until his sophomore year that Williams started to flash his elite talent. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams only played 59 snaps in 2014, but he still managed to put pressure on the quarterback 13 times — including one sack, one quarterback hit and 11 hurries. Of Williams’ 59 snaps, 48 of them were against the pass. With a PRP (pass rush productivity) rate of 27.1%, Williams was already starting to establish himself as one of the premier pass rushers in college football.
Like Williams’ freshman year, his junior year started off a little bit slow. Three weeks into the regular season, Williams had only managed to log one tackle. Some of that has to do with the playing time he was receiving, but Williams did not let the slump discourage him. He ended up finishing the season with 10.5 sacks in only 12 games.
Williams was still a part-time player — playing in only 184 snaps — but he managed to post absurd numbers. Despite playing in approximately 20% of Alabama’s defensive snaps, Williams finished 9th in the country in quarterback sacks. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams logged 52 total pressures - including 10.5 sacks, 8 quarterback hits and 33 quarterback hurries.
After posting an outstanding 27.1% PRP rate his sophomore year, Williams followed that success up by improving that number over a larger sample size. He finished with a 35.1% PRP rate, which made him the most efficient pass rusher in all of college football.
When evaluating edge rushers, some of the main things you look for are relatively simple to identify if you know where to look. Can the player covert speed to power? What is his snap anticipation like? Is he able to bend off the edge? How is his hand usage? These are the types of things that can begin painting a picture and help an analyst project a player’s potential success. Tim Williams displays all of these things.
Just as Williams displayed in high school, his burst off the edge is elite. Whether it is a result of his ability to anticipate the snap or his impressive hip explosion, Williams is able to get a jump off the ball that allows him to create havoc for opposing quarterbacks.
His bend is also exceptional and it allows him to contain opposing quarterbacks and keep them in the pocket. In addition, Williams also possesses strong and violent hands that he uses to help set up offensive linemen. After the setup, Williams shows the ability to use an array of pass rush moves that prevents opposing linemen from anticipating his attack.
What separates Williams from most pass rushers is that he doesn’t have to rely solely on his rare burst off the edge. When that isn’t enough, he does an outstanding job converting speed to power and can beat offensive tackles both inside and out. When you combine these things with Williams’ relentlessness, it makes him very difficult to block.
As good as Williams has been, he needs to continue to develop some consistency with his pad level. When he gets low and drives off the ball, he is one of the hardest defenders to block in college football. The problem is that Williams tends to get high with his pad level in certain situations, and that almost always leads to him being taken out of the play.
Williams also needs to learn to finish the play more often. He made significant strides in this area from his sophomore to junior year, but there is still room for Williams to grow. While these weaknesses are evident with Williams, people also assume that another weakness exists as a result of a lack of opportunity.
People that point to Williams’ run defense as a weakness aren’t painting the correct picture. Yes, it is true that Williams needs to prove that he is a capable run defender, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t shown the ability to be just that up to this point. It’s a matter of opportunity.
Over the course of Williams’ sophomore and junior years, he has only played 45 snaps versus the run. Pro Football Focus tabbed Williams with a career 14.7% RSP (run stop percentage), which would put him among college football’s elite in this area. This is an extremely small sample size, of course, but it should not be disregarded. The tools are there for Williams to be an every down edge rusher.
Tim Williams has the ability to be one of the premier players in college football. While it is a limited sample size, Williams has shown flashes of being just that. The next step for him is to show that a larger sample size won’t result in regression.
The Alabama defense lost a lot of talent from last year, but allowing players like Williams to step into a full-time role could prevent a major drop off. If Williams can become an every down edge rusher for Alabama’s defense, 20 plus sacks is not out of the realm of possibility.
Try to enjoy Williams’ last year playing in crimson, fellow Tide fans. It’s only a matter of time before he is wrecking havoc on Sundays.