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Xavier Williams’ film review: run defense is his strength

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Arizona Cardinals Training Camp Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

I’ve spent most of the last few days sweating about the Kansas City Chiefs’ current situation on defense. It turned out they weren’t quite done yet after all.

A big part of my concern has been that the Chiefs, from what I could tell, hadn’t found a viable replacement for Bennie Logan as a run stopper. Given the issues the team already had against the run, I didn’t want to see one of the few consistent players in that department gone without a replacement.

Well, the Chiefs appear to have addressed that particular concern (at least I hope so), signing restricted free agent Xavier Williams. As we’ve discussed here, because Williams was tendered with an “original round” tag and was an undrafted free agent, the Arizona Cardinals had the opportunity to match but do not get compensated for losing him.

I didn’t know Xavier Williams from the next guy prior to the Chiefs showing interest, so there wasn’t much else for me to do but take a look at a few of his games and try to get a gauge on whether he’s someone who can help the defense out or is camp fodder.

After reviewing, I’m leaning the former, but I definitely think there’s a ceiling on the help he’ll provide: he’s a run defense guy.

If you’ve never read a film review of a defensive lineman, you can click here for a pretty extensive explanation. To sum up: I track each snap, grading each as a win/loss/neutral, and separate them into pass rush (“PR”) and run defense (“RD”). A win is just what it sounds like, the player winning his assignment/matchup. A loss is the opposite. A neutral play is for where there’s no clear winner/loser or the defender doesn’t have much to do on the play. I also chart stuffs (runs stopped for 2 yards or less by the defender alone), effective double-teams (basically, double teams forced, not just due to scheme, and that actually benefit the defense), and pressures/hits/sacks.

I went through three games of Williams (normally I’d like the sample size to be larger, but he’s a player who doesn’t take long to get a feel for. Also, it’s late) in the 2017 season.

In regard to usage, it should be noted that the Cardinals moved Williams around a bit, but he was always inside. He lined up as a 0-tech or 1-tech (right in front of the center or on either shoulder of the center, in the A gap) on quite a few snaps. He played traditional nose tackle in their 3-4, as well as 3-tech in the nickel formations (this was more frequent by my eye, but he played plenty in both spots).

Another thing to note is that Williams is listed as 6-feet-2 and 309 pounds on NFL.com, but he’s listed as weighing 325 pounds at ESPN. That’s weird. Looking at him and seeing how he plays, I’m thinking he’s somewhere in between. All that said, let’s look at some numbers and discuss film.

For some context, here is a review of Chris Jones in 2016. Also, here’s a review of Bennie Logan’s 2016 film prior to joining the Chiefs (MAN, I had high hopes for him. He was OK, but not nearly as impactful as I thought he would be), and here’s a review of Roy Miller (another run-stopping type of player).

When you compare the raw “numbers,” Williams actually stacks up pretty favorably to Chris Jones’ rookie film, but please don’t let that fool you into believing his tape is as impressive. It’s not. Williams was able to win more often against the run than rookie Jones due to superior awareness and stoutness at the point of attack, which gave him a better “win” percentage. However (and this is where the number system breaks down), his wins were rarely as impressive as Jones’ were. In other words, he didn’t demonstrate the same capability to make “splash” plays.

Since Williams will be (likely) trying to replace Logan, it makes the most sense to compare those two. Since I do not have Logan’s 2017 numbers, we have to make due with what he did in 2016. Williams, in the two games I watched, won at a slightly higher rate than Logan, but lost at a higher rate as well. This matched up with what I saw on film, where Williams did present with more variance than Logan’s very consistent film displayed.

Of course, as I alluded to earlier, Logan’s time in Kansas City was somewhat disappointing. Because of that, I’m hesitant to read too much into what any defensive lineman does in a system outside of Kansas City, especially a system like Arizona in which linemen were allowed to attack single gaps more consistently. So while the numbers tell us what Williams did last year, I’m not sure I’d treat them as predictive.

So since the numbers don’t help as much as I’d like, let’s talk traits. First of all, Williams is a pretty stout guy.

Williams did two things well with Arizona that I’m particularly hoping will translate to his time as a Chief, because they were lacking last year outside of Logan. First, the ability to take on double teams and not get washed out.

Williams doesn’t have overwhelming size, but he plays with a strong base underneath him and doesn’t give ground without putting up quite the fight. His pad level is pretty consistently good, as is his hand placement. He also plays with a lot of energy on every snap, which is good to see.

Staying strong against a pair of blockers is a very difficult thing, but it’s critical to be able to “control” two blockers for a time in order to keep linebackers somewhat clean. Williams did that pretty consistently.

If the Chiefs have Williams playing Logan’s old role at 0 tech or 1 tech in base alignments, he’s going to need to be stout at the point of attack, whether it’s against a single blocker or a pair of blockers. If he can do it with the consistency he did it in Arizona, I’m not worried about him keeping Reggie Ragland and Anthony Hitchens free of offensive linemen the majority of the time. So that’s good news.

Williams is also very solid against reach blocks, consistently moving them back and forcing runners to cut back into pursuit.

Getting that kind of movement on linemen isn’t easy, but Williams (in the 3 games I watched) did it with more consistency than any lineman not named Jones or Logan last season. Given the issues the run defense had, that’s welcome news for me.

Williams is not dominant as a run defender, though. He’s not a guy who is going to blow up a bunch of plays Chris Jones style (there’s a reason guys like Jones are rare). Additionally, there are times he would lose to individual linemen. This seemed to vary by matchup, and it wasn’t consistent, but it happened.

Overall, Williams is (remember, this is what he did in Arizona. Hopefully it translates) a very competent run defender who is strong at the point of attack, maintains gap awareness as he’s engaged with blockers, has good base and pad level and doesn’t often get taken off his feet. He also does a good job in pursuit, generally taking good angles and showing a bit of movement when forced to travel. He’s a welcome addition to a run defense that definitely got pushed around at times last season.

As a pass rusher, well...

Williams didn’t have terrible “pass-rush win” numbers in my charting, but he was one of the situations where I wished I could place degrees on a win or a loss (I’ve resisted doing so given how far we already travel down the rabbit hole). I’d say 3-4 of his wins were... well, again he’s not Chris Jones out there.

They were wins, but they weren’t dominant ones.

Williams isn’t a guy who typically contributes to the pass rush. he lacks moves and is reliant on brute strength. When that doesn’t work, he’s stuck in place, though he remains a high-motor guy who will work until the whistle. He just doesn’t go anywhere if he can’t make the bull rush work.

The two exceptions I saw to that (and the things that give me faint hope that the still-young Williams could develop more as a pass rusher) were a decent push-pull move and a nice swim.

Those moves look great back-to-back, but they were the exception rather than the rule. Of course, if Williams even manages to win a few times a game as a rusher in Kansas City he’ll do more than a lot of the linemen (again, ones not named “Jones”) did last year. So I guess that’s the good news: the bar is quite low.

From what I can tell, Williams doesn’t usually show the burst or explosion required to get around blockers in pass protection, nor is he often able to just manhandle them to the side.

He’ll have occasional snaps in which he flashes one or both of those things, but they didn’t show up consistently at all in the games I watched. Because of that, I believe his pass rush potential is pretty minimal.

In review

Overall, I’m glad the Chiefs signed Williams.

He appears to be a decent player who is strong against the run and maybe has some upside as a pass rusher (though a pretty limited upside in my opinion). Williams being on board makes me breathe a little easier, as run defense has been a major problem for the Chiefs. Of course, Logan was supposed to fix that too, but he wasn’t as good as I’d hoped and (though he played decently) couldn’t compensate for Derrick Johnson’s play falling off a cliff or other players along the line underperforming (again, not Jones).

Hopefully, this time Williams is surrounded by a bit better play, with Jones coming into his third year and Hitchens and Ragland behind him.

We’ll see what happens, but I think this will end up being a decent value signing by Brett Veach.