#50 Cowboys: OT Connor Williams

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Overview
The Longhorns have not produced a single first-round pick on offense since Vince Young was selected No. 3 overall by Tennessee back in 2006.

But don't worry Texas fans, Williams will end that dubious streak this spring.

The Texas native was not an especially highly rated prep prospect but that did not stop him from earning the starting left tackle role in the season opener as a true freshman - a role he would only relinquish when hurt for the next three years.

He started all 12 games on the blindside in 2015, immediately boosting an offensive line that ranked 18th in the nation in rushing yards, generating just under 225 yards (224.8 to be exact) per game and ran for six touchdowns in three separate contests. Rival coaches recognized Williams impact, honoring the true freshman with honorable mention All-Big 12 accolades. So too did the media with ESPN, USA Today and the Football Writers Association of American all voting Williams a Freshman All-American.

Williams ascended in grades and honors in 2016, becoming just the fourth sophomore in the Longhorns' storied history to earn First Team All-American honors, joining Hub Bechtol (1944), Russell Erxleben (1976) and Earl Thomas (2009). Big 12 coaches saw the same, voting Williams first-team all-conference and recognizing him as the best blocker on a line that helped D'Onta Foreman win the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top runner, rumbling for an FBS-leading 184.4 rushing yards per game. Though his proficiency as a run blocker earned all kinds of attention, Williams was just as good in pass protection, showing the nimble feet, bent knee and explosive punch that project very well to the next level.

After an offseason in which the 20-year old was frequently discussed as a potential early first round pick, Williams stumbled a bit out of the gate in 2017, surrendering pressures against Maryland's athletic front in a season-opening 51-41 loss. He and the Longhorns returned with a vengeance against San Jose State (56-0) before Williams suffered a knee injury in the second quarter of the Longhorns' tough 27-24 loss to Southern Cal.

Williams would go on to miss the next seven games but returned for the final two regular season games against West Virginia and Texas Tech, helping the Longhorns win both to qualify for a bowl game. Healthy and as agile and aggressive as ever, Williams once again looked like the best left tackle in college football in those two games.

On November 27 Williams announced that he would be skipping his senior season and Texas' upcoming bowl game (Texas Bowl vs. Missouri) to completely heal and prepare for the 2018 NFL draft.

With his light feet, easy knee bend and brawlers' mentality, scouts can check a lot of boxes with Williams. The lack of top edge rushers in the Big 12 raise questions about his ability to hold up against elite NFL speed, a question exacerbated because Williams does not appear to have ideal arm length, making his measurement and medical checks at the Combine key factors in his final projection.

BACKGROUND
Played tight end as late as his junior year of high school and was not an especially highly regarded prep prospect, earning "just" three stars and ranked outside of the top 50 offensive tackles by most recruiting websites despite recording 63 pancakes and grading out at 94 percent, while only allowing one sack and committing one holding penalty as a senior... Also saw time at a nose tackle in 2014, registering 38 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks, five pressures, five forced fumbles and two passes defended.

Analysis
STRENGTHS
Possesses a power-packed frame with excellent weight distribution throughout his upper and lower body. Very good initial quickness off the snap, firing off the ball as a run blocker to create a surge. Provides an explosive initial pop on contact, jarring opponents and showing excellent hand strength and placement to latch on, steer and sustain - qualities which could lead to a move inside to guard if his pro team desires. Williams plays with the nastiness which would fit well inside and will endear him to NFL offensive line coaches. He fights until the echo of the whistle, using his core strength to overpower opponents and ultimately pancaking them, if he feels them off-balance. Williams' initial quickness and strength also show up in pass protection. He eases off the snap calmly, sliding to his left with quick power steps which help him maintain his balance and keep him able to re-direct inside to mirror counter-moves. Williams may not possess elite arm length but his quickness allows him to keep his shoulders square to pass rushers. He shows patience and good football intelligence in pass protection, understanding angles and not panicking. Once Williams latches on, his grip and grit take over. He possesses excellent core strength and bends his knees properly to anchor against bull rushers. - Rob Rang 12/16/2017

WEAKNESSES
Williams slides well laterally but does not possess the quickness or length of elite NFL left tackles, limitations which will cause him some problems against speed rushers. He can get over-aggressive when run blocking on the move, failing to anticipate where linebackers are headed and leaving himself lunging at them or re-directing to another target. Some will have questions about Williams' grit after he missed a total of eight games over the past two seasons, including seven in 2017 for a knee injury that ultimately did not require surgery, as well as the 2016 clash with UTEP.

COMPARES TO: Hall of Famer Gary Zimmerman, Vikings/Broncos. At 6-6, 294 pounds Zimmerman was not the most imposing offensive lineman in the league during the 80s and 90s but he certainly was among the best, earning a spot on the All-Decade team while splitting his career between Minnesota and Denver. Similarly, there are nits to pick in Williams' game (and no doubt some will) but his quickness, balance and aggressive hands - all traits which stood out with Zimmerman - should make him a longtime standout, as well.

IN OUR VIEW: Williams is a bit of a throwback, showing the power and aggression as a run blocker that scouts covet along with the athleticism, balance and girth to stone pass rushers, projecting as a legitimate NFL left tackle worthy of top 10 consideration.

  • Rob Rang 12/16/2017
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