Today, we take a look at defensive tackle Nick Williams, who is set to be one of the Detroit Lions' 13 unrestricted free agents this offseason.
This is the latest installment in Pride of Detroit’s free agent profiles series, and if you missed any of the previous articles, you can check them out here: Charles Harris, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Tim Boyle, Alex Anzalone, Tracy Walker, Josh Reynolds, and KhaDarel Hodge.
Expectations heading into 2021
A holdover from the previous regime, Williams was retained by general manager Brad Holmes for several reasons.
First off, Williams is a veteran in the NFL, having been playing in the league since he was drafted in the seventh round of the 2013 draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Secondly, Williams had shown flashes of being a productive interior pass rusher during his time with the Chicago Bears, although that never really materialized during his first year with the Lions. Lastly, once Williams accepted Holmes’ pay cut proposal, he wasn’t overly expensive from a salary cap standpoint, with a total cap hit of just under $3 million in 2021. At that point, it made more sense to keep Williams in the fold.
Having just drafted rookies Alim McNeill and Levi Onwuzurike on Day 2 of the 2021 NFL draft, both Williams and fellow veteran Michael Brockers were tasked with playing at the level expected of veterans, as well as bringing along the younger players in their position room.
Actual role in 2021
17 games (17 starts): 27 total tackles, 1 pass broken up, a half sack
PFF grade: 50.3 DEF grade (83rd out of 111 qualifying defensive linemen)
The Lions received mostly inconsistent play from Williams, who, like the majority of the defense, struggled at both defending the run and pressuring opposing passers. Maybe this was a product of Williams not playing alongside an interior force like Chicago’s Akiem Hicks, but the pass rushing chops that lured the Lions into signing Williams, never showed.
And against the run, look no further than the games the Lions played against the Philadelphia Eagles and the Cincinnati Bengals. In both games, the defense was physically dominated for 60 minutes, and both the scoreboard and stat sheet reflected that. The Lions’ defense had been manhandled at the point of attack, allowing their opponent to get whatever they wanted on the ground, whenever they wanted.
To me, that issue falls squarely on the front seven, and to be even more specific, the interior defensive line. If those players don’t properly execute their run fits and occupy blocks, things can quickly spiral out of control for a defense.
Despite the inconsistencies, Williams received plenty of snaps throughout the year, but his play never really progressed.
Outlook for 2022
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
With younger players in waiting in McNeill and Onwuzurike, as well as Brockers in the fold for another year, it’s hard to say for certain if the Lions would have significant interest in bringing Williams back in 2022.
Is Brockers enough of a veteran presence for this coaching staff if they opt to go with another younger player with upside in place of Williams? With more cap room this offseason than last, Brad Holmes will have more options to upgrade than he did last year.
Should the Lions resign Nick Williams?
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