The Redskins announced a number of roster moves on Sunday. Among them was a change at the linebacker position. The team waived LB Garrett Sickels, a 6’3” 261 pound former Penn State player who was listed at the bottom of the depth chart as an outside linebacker. He was replaced by a 2019 UDFA linebacker from Auburn who, in his own words, has flexibility to play inside or outside. That player is Darrell Williams, a 3-year defensive player from the SEC.
Prior to the draft, the Athletic wrote an excellent in-depth article about Williams.
“He’s a Sunday player,” Auburn linebackers coach Travis Williams said last fall. “You’ll see Darrell on Sundays. He has a chance to probably be one of the highest-drafted linebackers that Auburn has had in a while. I don’t know where he’s going to go, but I think he has a chance to play on Sundays.”
Williams had everything a team would want in a modern linebacker — size, speed, length and versatility. He was comfortable doing whatever Auburn asked him to do in its defense, whether it was stopping the run, rushing the passer or dropping back into coverage.
Williams didn’t miss a game due to injury during his three seasons of action at Auburn, and he was one of the team’s most productive players.
In a different article published early in the 2018 season, the Athletic extolled Darrell Williams’ virtues.
At 6-2 and 240 pounds with solid speed, Williams is the ideal modern linebacker. With NFL offenses adopting more spread principles and passing at high rates, teams need playmakers who can cover receivers while still being sound in run stopping. Darrell has that, along with a knack for the pass rush.
That skill set allows Williams to play a number of roles in Auburn’s defense. In the base 4-2-5, he is the outside linebacker next to Deshaun Davis. Whenever the Tigers go to a 4-3 look — like they did several times against Washington’s pro-style sets — he is the strongside linebacker. And when Auburn empties into a dime look, he is the lone linebacker on the field.
“The scouts come; they’re asking about all three (senior linebackers),” Travis Williams said. “They’re for sure great NFL players. But they’re very high on Darrell Williams because of his skill set. He’s long; he can rush the passer. He’s probably our best pass rusher in the room. He can cover.”
As Auburn has turned into a top-tier defense under Steele, Williams has been able to take advantage of opportunities created by the scouting attention on the elite defensive linemen in front of him.
NFL draft analysts are starting to see the potential from Auburn’s do-it-all linebacker as big boards and position rankings have started to populate over the last few months.
“I gave Williams a draftable grade over the summer,” said Dane Brugler, who covers the NFL Draft for The Athletic. “He looks the part and plays the part. He just needs to add consistency to his game as a senior to cement his status as a draftable player.
But as the 2018 season came to an end, it became apparent that Williams was being overlooked by the NFL.
But after his senior season, when his Auburn teammates earned invitations to the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game, Williams heard nothing.
Then came the rounds of NFL Scouting Combine invites. Deshaun Davis, a fellow Auburn linebacker who was highly productive in college yet lacks the prototypical size and speed, picked up an invitation to Indianapolis to go along with his January trip to the Senior Bowl.
Williams still heard nothing.
“I was definitely surprised,” Williams said last Friday, after Auburn’s Pro Day event.
Williams wasn’t the only one. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler listed Williams as one of the snubs from the combine invite list. Whenever NFL scouts talk to Williams, he says they are just as stunned as he is.
“Mostly, they were shocked that I wasn’t at the combine,” Williams said. “But as far as personally, I can control what I can control. I don’t let that stop my mindset.”
When it came time to establish his measurables, Williams, who had tried to slim down a bit to improve his quickness and speed, found that he had overshot the mark.
[H]e weighed in at a surprising 219 pounds in Auburn — 21 pounds lighter than what he was listed at during his senior season, but that didn’t translate into a fast time in the 40-yard dash. He posted two unofficial times in the 4.9 range, which would have been among the slower times posted by linebackers at the combine.
Yet Williams thought he moved around better at his new weight, and some of his measurements at pro day reflected that. Williams posted a vertical of 29.6 inches and a broad jump of 9 feet, 6 inches.
If he would’ve posted those two numbers in Indianapolis, he would’ve finished second among linebackers in both categories.
And so, even with the less-than-stellar 40 time, Williams still was able to show NFL teams what they could have gotten from him at the combine.
“I definitely did feel like I had something to prove,” Williams said. “A lot of the scouts were talking to me… they were saying, ‘We’re shocked you weren’t at the combine. We thought we were going to get to talk to you up there. We came here today because we want to see you perform well. We feel like you perform just as good as those guys at the combine, so go out there and show us what you can do today and have fun.’”
Williams is bullish about his own abilities, and what he can offer to the Redskins defense.
“I can play inside, I can play outside,” Williams said. “You can move me around on the defense, special teams — on every special team, you can move me around to any spot. That’s what we did here at Auburn. Coaches felt good about putting me anywhere, and felt I could learn it quick and felt that I could have the attributes to play every position.
“I can come off the edge, set the edge, rush off the edge, be an inside ‘backer, take on the blocks, play the run, stop the run, be versatile enough to go out and cover a slot.”
I don’t know about you, but the young man’s confidence has me fired up!
The Redskins now want to find out how Williams can contribute in Washington. The team has a lot of depth at outside linebacker, but may be a bit thinner at the inside position. Having a player who is versatile may prove valuable, though it is unlikely that Williams can hope for more than a spot on the Redskins practice squad when the preseason comes to an end in about three weeks.
Here’s a look at the depth chart for the Redskins linebackers. Williams’ name will get added to this list today. He’ll be hoping to impress coaches and make sure that his name is there to stay.