COLUMBUS, Ga. — The first sample onlookers’ collective eyes got to see of Mykel Williams on Thursday night was on offense and then…
The coveted pass rusher, ranked among the top 20 overall recruits in the college football class of 2022 by SI All-American, got two defenders on the dirt on his first two snaps on offense. One was a straight-on block, while working as a tight end, and the other was on a pull and then kick-out (against another Power 5 recruit, no less) in which the short-area explosion created an audible gasp.
The 6’5″, 255-pound prospect then worked on the side of the ball we expect to see prevalent in college, defensive end. Working as both a stand-up player and with his hand in the dirt despite a heavily-taped cast on his right hand, the talent from the outside was on display throughout the night despite his Columbus (Ga.) Hardaway squad falling to crosstown rival Carver High.
Williams initially caught attention with his frame. Seemingly having added good weight since the offseason camp circuit, yet maintaining a relatively lean and lengthy build in the process. On the hoof he looks like the type to be able to work outside-in within any defensive scheme, with enough quickness to challenge blockers on the edge and enough build and power to contend against bigger blockers on the offensive interior.
As the night wore on, the play-making continued, but so did the motor. Often times in this business the focus is quite contingent on flash plays, ceiling and long term potential — but there is still something to be said for effort. Williams worked both sides of the ball, fought through cramps on a cool night and continued to push, even with the score out of reach. As both a blocker and defender, the future Bulldog worked through the whistle with physicality and purpose, a benefit-of-the-doubt creating characteristic at any level of ball.
Discipline was also on display Thursday. Williams was often run away from, typical of a blue-chip recruit over a multi-year span, so his keys against the run became his sold path to the football. Carver ran plenty of zone read, with action away from his position, requiring him to play backside for the quarterback keep or the cut back lane from the running back. Not only did Williams diagnose well, but he maintained leverage, flashed patience and attacked there after.
When Carver tried traditional dive action to or from his side, there was no hesitation and Williams consistently worked down the line for impact plays against the ball carrier. One early stop came on a fourth down, creating the first of what would be four Carver turnovers on the evening.
Where Williams seems just as comfortable is against the pass. Not only does he fire off of the football with twitch and timing, but there seems to be a diverse plan near the contact point. In staying low, rushing from either side of the formation, Williams executed a bull rush, club and rip and even an effective spin at times Thursday. He closes the distance between his assigned blocker without wasted movement and can mix up pressure styles thereafter to jam up tackles.
Where there is room for improvement in the pass rush game is the complexity of the moves and layering against better blockers. Williams got a few hits on the opposing quarterback, who was extremely mobile, taking him off of his spot on seemingly a dozen occasions. With his build and recognition ability, additional techniques like a push-pull, swim or even an inside-out rush could allow for even more production on passing downs. Maintaining the expanded tool box as he adds more mass will hint at his future position, too.
The combination of his size, versatile strengths along with overall length and athleticism makes the position projection for Williams a bit in flux. In the offseason, our staff leaned more towards the projection of a 5-technique or traditional 3-4 defensive end, hence the ‘interior defensive line’ tag attached to his name as opposed to an ‘edge’ label. There is consistency against the run in both taking on blocks and recognition, while enough pass rushing upside exists to move him up and down the line.
When the final SI99 ranking goes live in January, the Georgia commitment may move to edge or stick to his IDL position, but there is little question about whether or not he belongs among the nation’s best at either spot.