In the weeks leading up to the 2008 NFL Draft (April 26-27), BR.com will offer a look into the top prospects by position. This week, we are covering the offensive tackles. Today's feature lineman is Vanderbilt's Chris Williams.
Most people wouldn't believe that the best offensive lineman coming out of the SEC this year is from Vanderbilt, hardly a program with a storied football history.
Still, one can't look past talented tackle Chris Williams to see the group's top prospect.
Coming from a school known more for its academics and talented baseball squad, Williams stood out on a team that finished a disappointing 5-7 last season. As a 6-foot-6, 315-pound senior, Williams started all 12 games at left tackle, receiving the top blocking grade for consistency (85.67%) of any down lineman in the SEC.
He produced 102 knockdowns and key blocks, with 12 resulting in touchdowns, while allowing only one quarterback sack and one pressure on 836 offensive snaps.
Williams continued that in January's Senior Bowl, where he received praise for a rare combination of massive dimensions and nimble feet.
"The Senior Bowl was big for me," he said. "I think a lot of people liked that a lot."
Williams also said he wasn't surprised at his stellar performance.
"I knew I could play well," added the lineman. "I talked to my offensive line coach [Robbie Caldwell] before I left, and he just said, 'Go do what [I] taught [you]. Go do what [you] do well.' I just went down there and had fun and played well."
Scouts talk about Williams' naturally long reach and wide body that go perfectly with a self-confessed mean streak.
"I think you do need [a nasty disposition]," said the 21-year-old. "Offensive line is a tough position. It's not always about talent; it's about can you play through pain. Can you play though injuries? Can you play every snap?
"It's not a position where people rotate a lot. I haven't had anyone ask me about it, but it's obvious you need it."
Williams was one of four Vanderbilt alums invited to the NFL Combine in February, joining inside linebacker Jonathan Goff, defensive end/linebacker Curtis Gatewood and receiver Earl Bennett.
But, Williams is the only Commodore with first-round aspirations. If he is among the opening selections, he would be Vanderbilt's second first-rounder in three drafts, following Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler (11th overall, 2006).
"I'm sure he helped Vanderbilt lot, especially in recruiting," Williams said of Cutler, his teammate in 2005. "To be able to throw a name like Jay Cutler around probably helps a lot in recruiting. It can be like, 'Jay Cutler went here, a lightly recruited guy, came in and was able to get drafted 11th overall. Basically anybody can do it.'"
Williams now hopes to be the next Commodore to carry that torch, a vastly different mindset than what he had as a freshman. Despite earning All-Conference and All-Region honors at Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Williams admitted that it took a while before he could think about the professional ranks.
"When you get to college, you're trying to play college ball first, then eventually start," he explained. "At some point you realize, 'Hey, I've got a shot at playing pro ball.' Then you've got a shot to get drafted. It's kind of one step at a time thing."
"I was always was dreaming."
Considering Williams' success, it won't be long before those dreams become reality.