Despite running the 40-yard dash in the 4.9 second range at Alabama's pro day in mid-March, injury concerns could cause the Green Bay Packers to pass on defensive lineman Jesse Williams in both the first or second round of next week's NFL Draft.
"Williams has some medical concerns," said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock in a Thursday conference call with reporters. "I don't see him as fully healthy; I don't see him as a first round pick.
"Fully healthy, I see him somewhere late two. With the medical concerns thrown in, and some teams will have some concerns, some teams won't. So I think he could go in the second or third round."
Williams originally injured his right knee in the second half of the SEC Championship game this past season but returned to play in the national championship game in January. After the season, he had his knee scoped, which contributed to Williams refraining from doing any drills other than the bench press at the NFL Combine.
A popular pick to go to the Packers in mock drafts around the internet, Williams definitely has the bulk and toughness the Packers could use in a defensive lineman.
Growing up in Australia, Williams played the padless game of rugby, which only adds to the perception of Williams as a rough and tumble type of defender.
The Packers defense was called "soft" by observers last season (notably by beat writer Bob McGinn) after giving up rushing totals of 210 and 199 yards to Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and 181 yards to 49ers quarterback Colin Kapernick.
If there's one thing Williams can provide, it's the ability to stuff the run. He also has the flexibility to line up at multiple positions in a 3-4 defensive front, having played primarily the five-technique position to the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle in 2011 and then nose tackle in 2012.
Asked what separates him from other players, Williams said, "I think playing the defense by Coach Saban and how I played physical and I guess the technique, we're all pretty similar. I'm in pretty good shape and pretty athletic compared to the other guys. For my size I can move pretty well."
What Williams won't provide, however, is much of a pass rush. With only 1.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss in two years of major college football, he hasn't shown a penchant to collapse the pocket.
For a team like the Packers that has been missing a consistent pass rush threat from its defensive line ever since Cullen Jenkins departed via free agency in 2011, Green Bay has yet to find a suitable replacement.
Still, with five defensive lineman whose contracts will expire after the 2013 season (B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson and Johnny Jolly), the Packers have both an immediate and future need at the position.
Aside from his massive 6-3 and 323 lb. frame, among the first things someone will notice upon seeing Williams are the tattoos that cover him quite literally from head to toe.
There's a feathered headdress on his left shoulder, a nod to his tribal heritage from Thursday Island near Australia. There's a poem written by his father on his left forearm.
There's the YOLO "You Only Live Once" acroynm where a sideburn would be by his left ear. There's "FTB" inked on his face, by his left eye, of which he declined to unveil the meaning. There's "Fear is a Liar" emblazoned on the right side of his head. And that's just a sampling.
"For me, it's just a constant reminder of where I'm from, what I'm about," said Williams at the Combine. "'Fear is a Liar' is just pushing myself and not having fear of failure and doing anything like that and trying to be the best person I can be. All these tattoos are little reminders of what I'm all about being away from my family and being on my own over here. It plays a big role with that."
Wherever he ends up, Williams will bring any team an uncanny strength. He bench pressed 225 lbs. 30 times at the Combine and said he's gotten close to 50 at Alabama.
Unfortunately for Williams, the knee injury is clouding his future. Whether a team is going to want to take on the risk of potentially damaged goods early in the draft is a question that won't be answered until Thursday or Friday.
Brian Carriveau is the author of "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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