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Film review: Scouting new Lions defensive tackle Nick Williams

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Over the next couple of weeks, we're planning on taking a closer look at several of the Detroit Lions' key free-agent signings. We will watch tape from three 2019 games for each player and provide a brief scouting report to better familiarize you with the new additions prior to the 2020 season

Player: Defensive tackle Nick Williams

Age: 30 (Feb. 21)

Measurables: 6-foot-4, 310 pounds, 34⅛-inch arms

Experience: A two-year starter at Samford (Alabama), Williams recorded 31 tackles, six sacks and a blocked kick in 11 games during his 2012 senior season, earning first-team all-conference honors.

Drafted in the seventh round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013, Williams has appeared in 44 games during his pro career, including five starts. He played sparingly his first seven seasons (312 total defensive snaps). Serving as an injury replacement in Chicago in 2019, he appeared in all 16 games and tallied career highs in tackles (42) and sacks (six).

Williams missed his rookie year with a knee injury and wasn't signed to a roster during the 2017 season.

Defensive tackle Nick Williams (97) signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Lions this offseason.

Tape studied: Against Minnesota (Sept. 29), at Philadelphia (Nov. 3) and versus Detroit (Nov. 10)

Strengths:

► The first things that stands out about Williams is how well he uses his length. He routinely shows the ability to fully extend his arm into the chest of an opposing offensive lineman, which helps maintain control of his gap assignments when defending the run. 

► Williams also does a nice job of keeping his eyes in the backfield throughout a snap. He rarely loses track of the quarterback when rushing the passer, allowing him to change his plan of attack if the pocket collapses and the quarterback bails. 

When playing the run, Williams' eye discipline allows him to quickly react to cuts, even when pursuing a play from the backside. 

Keeping track of the ball also helped Williams pounce on a fumble, caused by teammate Khalil Mack, against the Vikings. 

► Versatility is a key part of Williams' game. He lines up across the line, playing every technique from the zero (directly across from the center) to five (across the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle). From the games reviewed, he played a lot of three-technique (between the guard and tackle), as well as traditional nose tackle alignments over the center and between the center and guard. 

► Williams has a handful of effective pass-rush moves. He occasionally displayed impressive lateral quickness, getting into the backfield with both a swat or a swim. Against Detroit in November, he blew past left guard Joe Dahl for a sack (yes, he should have been picked up by the running back). 

Williams also has good power in his lower body and can effectively bull back a guard or center when he plays with proper leverage. 

► Williams has above-average balance and rarely goes to the ground. Perhaps due to the blocking schemes he was playing against, linemen rarely attempted to cut Williams. 

Weaknesses:

► Williams didn't see too many double teams, but he was generally rendered ineffective when facing multiple blockers. 

► When he times the snap, Williams has legit burst coming out of his stance. But the trait doesn't show up consistently. There were multiple reps where he was the last lineman, on either side of the ball, firing off. 

► In the early-season game against the Vikings, Williams looked sluggish down the stretch, playing with an inconsistent motor in the fourth quarter. Despite a similar amount of playing time in the two other games studied, he didn't see as much work in the fourth quarter. Subsequently, issues with his motor didn't show up in either of those games. 

► Against better competition, Williams struggled. Against Detroit, Graham Glasgow got the better of the head-to-head reps. And after a strong initial series against the Eagles, Williams was dominated by three-time All-Pro center Jason Kelce.

Even on the reps where Williams took an early advantage, whether with power or quickness, Kelce's superior technique and footwork almost always allowed him to recover and win the snap. The veteran defensive tackle lacked the counter moves to adequately match up. 

How he fits in Detroit: Williams came out of nowhere in 2019, earning a nice payday from the Lions for his efforts. He signed a two-year, $10 million agreement ($4.9 million guaranteed). 

His ability to comfortably play multiple spots and successfully defend the run with vision and length will make him a good fit for Detroit's gap-control front. Williams safely projects to fill A'Shawn Robinson's role in Detroit's defense, lining up primarily as a 3-tech tackle alongside nose tackle Danny Shelton. Williams should also continue to see some reps in those nose alignments when Shelton is on the sideline. 

The Bears often pulled Williams off the field on third downs. In fact, all six of his sacks came on second-down plays. It seems unlikely the Lions will follow that lead. While he might not be an elite pass rusher, he showed more life in that department than Robinson did in recent seasons.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers