One in a series previewing the 2018 NFL Draft on April 26-28 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Connor Williams said all the right things.
The University of Texas left tackle talked about being a “finisher” as an offensive lineman. He views himself as a tackle at the next level, but is open to moving inside. He spoke positively about the Longhorns’ football program and believes it’s heading in the right direction under Tom Herman.
The problem for Williams, though, is that his weigh-in and measurements created some concern at the NFL Scouting Combine.
For a guy who is projected to go in the first-round and looks like a pass-blocking master on game film, NFL teams can be rigid in their stance on measurements and how they project to the pro game. Williams weighed in at less than 300 pounds, coming in at 296. His arms are 33 inches, short for prototypical tackles in today’s game.
Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith, for instance, has 36 3/8-inch arms, although such length is not a necessity. Longtime Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, a 10-time Pro Bowl pick, has 32 1/2-inch arms.
Williams, who had a standout high school career at Coppell before going to UT, didn’t seem overly concerned. He remains confident he can succeed at tackle in the NFL.
“Personally, if you asked me, I feel like I’m a tackle,” Williams said, “but I’m willing to play anywhere a team needs me.”
Williams would not be the first player to make the transition from tackle in college to guard in the NFL. The Cowboys’ Zack Martin was a standout left tackle during his college career at Notre Dame and now is arguably the top guard in the league. Cowboys right tackle La’el Collins started his pro career at left guard after playing left tackle at LSU.
To put Williams’ size in perspective – he’s the same height (6-foot-5) as Arkansas center Frank Ragnow, but with less weight and shorter arms. But Williams did show off his strength on Friday with 26 reps on the 225-pound bench press. Williams believes his optimal playing weight is 305 pounds. He played last season at 315-320 pounds and his sophomore season at 305.
Asked if he felt he could play at that weight in the league, Williams said, “Yes, sir, I firmly believe that. Of course, over the years, gaining playing weight.”
What isn’t in question is Williams’ game film. He had three offensive line coaches in his three years at Texas, and exceeded expectations under each. He earned first-team All-America honors as a sophomore. This past season didn’t go as planned. Williams missed seven games after tearing his meniscus and spraining his anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his left knee during a loss at USC last season.
Williams spoke of his determination to come back, saying, “If that was my last play at the University of Texas against USC, it wouldn’t have felt complete.”
Williams opted to skip Texas’ appearance in the Texas Bowl and is now focused on his NFL career. There’s no question he talks the part of a mauler.
“I believe I instill my will. I’m a finisher. I go to the whistle and, at the same time, balance that with athleticism and 100 percent effort and you get somewhere with it," he said.
That’s why Williams is expected to become Texas’ first offensive player taken in the first round in a dozen years. The Longhorns haven’t had one since quarterback Vince Young went third overall to the Tennessee Titans in 2006. The NFL Draft is April 26-28 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
“It’d be amazing to be able to represent the state of Texas and university like that,” Williams said.
Williams touched on several other topics while reflecting on his time at Texas:
On sitting out the bowl game: “I talked to many trusted people that were close to me and, after talking to my team and talking with the people I trusted, I felt like I was informed enough to make a decision of ultimately chasing my dream, which is to play in the NFL.”
On teammates support that decision: “Yes, sir. I talked to them before and I talked to many of them before the decision to get their standpoint on it because that was a big factor going into it.”
On Texas’ 2017 season: “It was a big transition year. It was a big building block of establishing the culture there at the university and I believe they’re on the right page. It’s a winning program.”
On challenges of different coordinators and line coaches every year: “It’s not the most ideal situation, but it’s staying open minded and being able to — it’s adversity hitting you, so you’ve got to just learn the new program and be open minded when a new coach comes in.”
On Texas being close to contention again: “Like I say, my three years at Texas didn’t go as planned. Does that mean if I could go back I’d go to another school? Absolutely not. I mean I love the University of Texas. I’m a diehard Longhorn for life. Yes, we lost games by field goals and games we shouldn’t have lost and it was very disappointing and just seeing that it’s almost there and that the ability is there.”
On the 2016 overtime loss at Kansas: “It was tough. Looking back at it now, that was the down point of our program and I think it’s on an upwards slope now.”
On Tom Herman: “I believe he’s instilling a strong culture that’s going to last within the program and I feel like the team is on the rise.”