2015 NFL Scouting Combine Watch List: Defensive Line (Part 1)

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Dec 27, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans defensive end Leonard Williams (94) tries to get past Nebraska Cornhuskers lineman Matt Finnin (59) in the 2014 Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Leonard Williams, USC

Leonard Williams is perhaps the best player in the draft this year, and is a no-brainer top draft pick if he’s still available when the Raiders choose at the #4 overall spot. There’s plenty of coverage on the dynamic dual-threat lineman out of Southern Cal so I won’t go over his resume in much detail other than to say he can fit anything Jack Del Rio would want to do with his front. He can be a stud defensive end in a 4-3 or a 3-4, with ability to rush the passer from the edge as well as with power, as well as his ability to defeat run blocks and shut down opposing runners. With his size, strength and quick feet, he can line up as a 3-technique in a 4-3 scheme or quickly convert to a weakside 3-4 end. In NASCAR pass-rush packages, he could even line up as a nose tackle and press the pocket or command double teams to free up a blitzing interior linebacker or safety. He can do everything.

Because of his extensive game tape, national name recognition and high draft stock, there isn’t much he can do in the Combine to help himself out – how can you do better than being a can’t-miss top 5 pick? Still, if he shows at the Combine and participates, GM’s and coaches like Reggie McKenzie and Jack Del Rio are going to want to take a look at what he does, just to be sure what they see at the Combine matches what they’ve seen on tape. They’ll also want to talk to him and get to know him, to make sure he’s a culture fit.

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  • 1. Interview: the interview portion of the Combine will basically be the way coaches and GM’s get in a room and talk to a player they are considering, to make sure that player isn’t a poor culture or chemistry fit. The interview should be a lot of fun for everyone involved, as Williams is by all accounts a likeable, intelligent kid and is an unashamed Raider fan and native of Central California. Jack Del Rio, also a USC product, will likely want to talk to Williams about schemes and systems, and Williams should perform well. Still, this is where Reggie McKenzie will decide if Williams is going to be his next Khalil Mack, and where Jack Del Rio will decide if Williams is going to be one of the stars of his team.

    2. Physical: one of the very few negatives about Leonard Williams is his injury history in college. Williams has a well-publicized history of playing through pain and with injuries, and performing well despite them. While that may speak volumes about his character and toughness, it also raises some concerns about his durability and health at the next level, as playing through an injury often prevents it from healing properly. Williams, like all prospects, will undergo a comprehensive physical and medical examination at the Combine, and his results are going to be of interest to teams like the Raiders. When you’re about to use a top 5 draft pick on a player and pay him millions of dollars for at least the next four seasons, you want to know exactly what you’re getting, and you want to know that he’s going to be able to stay on the field. If doctors raise some concerns about his ankle or shoulder or anything else on his body, it could negatively effect his draft standing somewhat, even for a team that is extremely high on him.

    3. Measurables: after studying him on film for probably the better part of the last two years and sending scouts out to USC games to watch him play in person, NFL evaluators will finally have the chance to see Leonard Williams work out up close. There are no questions about his footwork, strength and speed in game, but the Combine will set numbers on everything. That said, bad measurables can be a blow: look how badly Michael Sam’s poor Combine measurables hurt him last year. That said, Leonard Williams is no Michael Sam, look for him to perform strongly in any measurable event he chooses to participate in.

    Next: DL Prospect to Watch: Dante Fowler Jr.