Wilfork is 31 years old and his contract runs through the 2014 season, at the end of which he’ll be 33. That gives the Patriots, at the very least, another two seasons to find someone to fill the massive hole — both figurative and literal — he’ll leave in the middle of that defense.
Alabama’s Jesse Williams‘ size and strength make him fairly comparable to Wilfork. His brute force and relentless hustle are also reminiscent of big No. 75, although a direct comparison would be unfair to both players.
Wilfork may be the best interior lineman in the NFL and Williams is a young Australian who is still developing as a student and player of the game. But Williams would only add to the Patriots’ line and offer Wilfork a reliable backup. He would also give the Patriots another massive interior defender, alongside Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, on short-yardage and goal line packages. Not to mention what a few years learning under the five-time Pro Bowler would do for him as a player going forward.
Williams spent just two years playing under Nick Saban, but he became an immediate starter and impact player with the Crimson Tide. Saban coached under Bill Belichick in Cleveland and the hoodie seems to take his former mentee’s opinion in high regard — as was the case when drafting Dont’a Hightower in 2012. So, it wouldn’t be a great surprise to see Belichick picking from the Bama tree once again.
Editor’s Note: NESN.com will evaluate and analyze one potential Patriots draft prospect every day from March 27 up until the start of the NFL Draft on April 25. Williams is the 18th player in that series.
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3, 323 pounds
*40 Time: 4.84 seconds
Bench Press: 30 reps
*This number reflects Williams’ 40 time at the Alabama pro day. He did not run at the combine.
After spending two years at a junior college, Williams transferred to Alabama and immediately became a starter on the defensive line. He started all 13 games in 2011 and 13 more in 2012, recording 61 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss during his two seasons in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He also had an impact on special teams, blocking a kick, and often lined up as a lead blocker in the Tide’s goal line set on offense.
Williams’ best fit is as a nose tackle in the NFL, but he is capable of playing different positions in 3-4 base defenses, as well. His strength should translate very well over to the pros, clogging up holes and forcing opposing running backs to divert from their original lanes. He would fit in as a good backup for Vince Wilfork up the middle and could eventually take over for him as the anchor of this defense a few years down the line.
Likelihood He’s Around at No. 29:
Most likely. Williams is one of the top defensive tackles in this year’s draft, but his lack of versatility along the line may see him fall to the second round. The Steelers (17th overall), Cowboys (18th), Colts (24th) and Broncos (28th) may all be looking for some interior help, too. But if the Patriots want Williams, he should be around for the taking at the end of the first round.
Game Tape breakdown:
Strengths: Williams didn’t break the NFL combine bench press record as he originally claimed, but he is incredibly strong. He uses his strength to power through smaller lineman and clog up running holes, forcing backs outside. He uses good leverage to get position in short-yardage situations and knows how to avoid cut blocks. He’s relentless in pursuit and hustles on every play, even after getting knocked to the ground.
Weaknesses: He doesn’t have great speed or athleticism, which hurts him against quicker guards against both the pass and run. He gets caught up working or hand fighting on blocks too often and needs to disengage earlier and more regularly. He’s also doesn’t get a consistent push in the pass rush.
Scout Williams for yourself below.
Next Up: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Other potential prospects: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State | Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee | Justin Pugh, OG, Syracuse | Alex Okafor, DE, Texas | Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor | Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina | Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia | David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State | Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee | Blidi Wreh-Wilson, CB, Connecticut | Margus Hunt, DT, SMU | Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M | Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU | Barrett Jones, C, Alabama | DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson | Darius Slay, CB, Mississippi State | Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech