223. Nick Williams, DE/DT, Samford: A- Grade
I thought Nick Williams would go a round or two earlier, so it's no surprise that Pittsburgh landed another value selection. There are some disappointing defensive ends on Pittsburgh's roster, so it wouldn't surprise me if Williams eventually was considered to be a starter.
Coaches hope tip helps Steelers coaches get friends' help
May 4, 2013
By Ray Fittipaldo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Relationships between high school and college coaches are the lifeblood of recruiting. When it comes time for college players to move into the NFL, relationships between college and NFL coaches can be just as important.
One such relationship is why the Steelers are taking a calculated gamble on Nick Williams, a raw, 6-foot-4, 309-pound defensive lineman from Division I-AA Samford University. The Steelers selected Williams, who only played one year of high school football, with their final pick in the seventh round of the draft last week.
Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell has known Samford coach Pat Sullivan for 40 years, dating to their college playing days when Mitchell was at Alabama and Sullivan, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, played for Auburn.
Sullivan also is good friends with Steelers tight end coach James Daniel, who coached with Sullivan at Auburn in the late 1980s.
"I was watching the draft with my wife from the fifth round on, and we were hoping the Steelers would get him," Sullivan said in a telephone interview. "I consider J.D. one of my best friends in life and I'm very fond of Mitch. As soon as the Steelers took Nick, I got on the phone with J.D., and he said Mitch was real high on Nick. Hopefully, the relationship with will work out for both sides."
Williams played football as an elementary and middle school student in Birmingham, Ala., but he gave it up upon entering high school to concentrate on basketball.
"When I got to high school I had a growth spurt and got real skinny," Williams said Friday afternoon after his first practice at the Steelers rookie camp this weekend. "I was 6-2, 185. I looked like a basketball player, so I went out for basketball, did really good at it. Then 12th grade came around, I said, 'Hey I loved to play football when I was a kid. I'm going to play again.' "
Williams took up football as a senior, but he was not a highly sought recruit. In fact, Williams only got recruited to Samford because his father, Frederick, knew Sullivan through State Farm Insurance, where they both worked in the 1980s when Sullivan was out of coaching.
"He wasn't getting recruited, but he was a big guy with a great frame," Sullivan said.
It took a while for Williams to learn how to play college football. He did not start until his junior season, but, as a senior, he was among the top players in Division I-AA, earning all-Southern Conference honors. Based on his senior season, Williams was invited to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
"Last season, he started to blossom," Sullivan said. "Was he a complete player? No. He was still learning. But you could see flashes of brilliance. I think that's what Mitch and the Steelers saw, too."
The Steelers are looking to turn Williams into a defensive end, a position he never has played. Mitchell has a history of being able to develop players drafted in lower rounds or signed as undrafted free agents.
Two of them -- Brett Keisel and Steve McLendon -- likely will be starters for the Steelers in the fall. Keisel was picked in the seventh round in 2002 and McLendon was an undrafted free agent in 2009.
"If you watch him on tape, you won't get very excited about him," Mitchell said of Williams. "But, if you look at him and you look at the potential that he has, he reminds me of when we signed Steve McLendon.
"What you have to look at as a coach is I don't know how many guys you're going to get next year in the seventh round that are going to be 6-4, 320 that can run. You go back, we took Brett Keisel in the seventh round. Brett Keisel was not 320. Here's a guy that can run. He came here. He played on the special teams and, when he got a chance to play, he picked up our scheme, did well, the rest is history.
"I look at this guy, he knows he's not going to play. He's a guy that I like. I think with some coaching, being around other good football players, he's smart enough. I think this guy has tremendous upside. I'm excited about him."
Keisel was inactive the first nine games of his rookie season and contributed only on special teams late that season. He did not start until 2006, but has since become a dependable player and made the Pro Bowl in 2010. McLendon did not make the 53-man roster as a rookie and spent part of the season on the practice squad. He spent the past three seasons as a reserve and spot starter.
"Coach Mitchell was talking about all those guys how they learned the system, learned what to do," Williams said. "When they started off, they weren't Pro Bowlers. But he developed them, and I think he can do the same with me."
Moving to the 4-3.
Seventh round pick Nick Williams playing defensive end in OTAs
By Neal Coolong on May 29 2013
While it wasn't a huge question over which position he'll play, Williams will reach Preseason Cult Status in August, and we're hanging now on his every bit of news.
A quick and easy bet for Preseason Hero, Steelers seventh round pick Nick Williams hasn't generated this much optimism for a player selected in the 200s since Baron Batch in 2010.
No, that isn't to say there's been a lot of time between those drafts. Steelers fans love late-round picks who generate positive praise.
We're drinking the Nick Williams Kool-Aid.
Williams said in an interview with Steelers 'n Stuff writer Brandon Sweeney he's been playing defensive end so far in OTAs.
Steel City Insider publisher Jim Wexell recently noted the power Williams displayed as defensive line coach John Mitchell worked him out during the first session last week.
Wexell would likely poke fun at the fact fans will get excited over that. But they will. And we gladly pay $7.95 a month to read it.
The fact Williams is generating this kind of buzz is more a testament to The Project - the Steelers player's kind of Steelers player. He came from "nothing," and we'll root for him harder than anyone else.
For now, he's playing defensive end, and he's one of the main reasons I'll even watch the preseason.
Williams, and Reggie Dunn, of course.
He's such an athlete, I wonder if we could use him as a TE in the red zone?