Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Solving Our Problems: Chris Williams

[With Free Agency all but over, it's time to take a look at who the Vikings might select in the first round with the #17 pick. Today, we're previewing Chris Williams, an offensive tackle from Vanderbilt. Previously, I previewed Derrick Harvey, a defensive end from Florida.]

One of the less talked about problems facing the Vikings this season is their offensive line, specifically the tackle and center positions. At left tackle, Bryant McKinnie is the on field stalwart, big, talented and willing to play hurt.Off the field, he’s just violated the NFL’s conduct policy for the second time and will almost certainly be forced to miss four or more games because of it. At right tackle, Ryan Cook has been inconsistent at best in his two seasons. He’s also the backup left tackle (a position he’ll likely play during McKinnie’s suspension) and the backup center, which was the position he was drafted to play and one that he may need to play, as Matt Birk, like all people, continues to age. If Birk were to be injured,(or pout and holdout) especially during McKinnie’s suspension, it would force Marcus Johnson and Chase Johnson (I don't know who he is either) into the lineup, and guarantee that Tarvaris Jackson would get to know the NFL North’s pass rushers intimately, the last thing you would want a young, inexperienced quarterback with a history of injury problems to do.

The Vikings chose not to pursue any linemen in free agency, which means that, unless they choose to trade McKinnie for another lineman (not likely), they are going to have to address their line issues via the draft, which I expect them to do. I would be surprised to see the Purple take less than two offensive linemen with their 9 picks, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them take a replacement for McKinnie in the first round, allowing them to trade their trouble making left tackle. Today I’m going to take a look at Chris Williams, a senior All SEC left tackle from Vanderbilt.

Williams is a tall guy, measuring in at 6’6”, but he doesn’t have the bulk you’d expect from someone that tall, weighing in at “only” 317 pounds. That didn’t affect his ability to contain some of the best pass rushers in college football, however, as he allowed only two sacks in his last two years at Vanderbilt, one in the first game of his junior year and one in his senior year. He did so by using quick footwork, a tremendous reach and good body control to contain and control the pass rusher off the edge. He also has tremendous football instincts, quickly recognizing stunts and twists, and he communicates well with his guard.

His communication skills also show up as leadership abilities, as his coaches at Vanderbilt counted on him as a mentor to younger players and as the leader of the offensive line. He responded well 0to these extra responsibilities, and continued to put in extra work in the film room and practice to improve. He has the work ethic that you want out of your first round pick, and doesn’t need the continual monitoring that other players do.

Like all prospects, there are some question marks. While there are no doubts about his work ethic, there are doubts about his intensity and killer instinct. He wasn’t the mauler that you’d expect someone his size to be. He relied mainly on technique, rather than raw strength, to contain pass rushers. His run blocking isn’t great either, despite the fact that Vanderbilt liked to run behind him. He struggles with drive blocking because of his height, and doesn’t always get low enough. He isn’t as strong as you’d want him to be either, something that manifests in his run blocking and his use of finesse pass blocking techniques.

The big question with Williams is his intensity. He can and should get stronger in an NFL workout plan, which he can be counted on to follow through with. He has almost everything else you’d want in a left tackle. Whether that will translate into a dominant left tackle will depend a lot on whether he plays aggressively, supplementing his technique with strength and a willingness to attack the rusher, rather than let the rusher come to him. If he does that, he’d be a great addition to the Vikings line, and would allow the Purple to shop Bryant Mckinnie. If he can’t, he should still be good, but he won’t be the reliable pass blocker a good team needs at left tackle.

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