BBD Assistant Editor: Joe Marino
Production at the left guard position was among the most inconsistent on the Buffalo Bills last season.
The team failed to adequately replace Andy Levitre, a four-year starter who left for the Tennessee Titans as an unrestricted free agent. The Bills initially entrusted the position to Colin Brown, who performed poorly and was released in Week 7 despite starting the first five games of the season. The performance of Doug Legursky, who replaced Brown as the starter in Week 6 after coming back from an injury, was only marginally better.
The Bills made improving at left guard—and the offensive line as a whole—a high priority this offseason by not only utilizing three draft picks on linemen, but also by signing veteran free agent Chris Williams.
Williams has started 54 games over the course of his seven-year career and was the only St. Louis Rams offensive lineman to start all 16 of the team’s games in 2013.
A 36-game starter at Vanderbilt, Williams played both guard and left tackle for the Commodores. As a senior in 2007, Williams started every game at left tackle and was a first-team all-SEC selection. His strong on-field play led to Williams being selected with the 14th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears.
Williams did not appear in a game until the eleventh week of his rookie season due to back injuries he dealt with that summer. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Williams only played 16 snaps across six games as a rookie. Williams became a starter in 2009, 2010 and 2011 but was released by the Bears in October 2012. Quickly signed by the Rams, he appeared in two games at the end of the 2012 season before starting all 16 games in 2013.
This offseason, the Bills signed Williams to a four year, $13.5-million contract with $5.5 million guaranteed this off-season. According to Spotrac, Williams has the 24th-highest average salary among NFL guards.
At 6’6” and 326 pounds, Williams offers the size that the Bills seem to covet in their offensive lineman.
Along with his size and experience, Williams has the solid feet you would expect from a former left tackle. He is able to mirror pass rushers and position his body well. He combines his good feet with solid balance and sustains blocks fairly well, which makes it difficult for opponents to shed him.
Williams has good lateral quickness, which enables him to slide in pass protection and down block well. He is able to get out in the open field and make blocks while he is an effective pull and trap blocker.
Williams has good technique and plays with decent leverage. He has quick hands that he is able to shoot to get good inside hand placement on his defender.
Williams’ overall issues can be summed up by highlighting his overall lack of functional strength. While he has many solid positive traits indicative of a sound NFL guard, his subpar strength limits his ability to be an exciting starter.
When pass blocking, because he doesn’t have good strength behind his feet and balance, Williams has an inconsistent anchor and cannot always set the proper depth of the pocket, which leads to pressure in the faces of opposing quarterbacks. It can be easy for opponents to get under Williams’ pads and generate pressure on quarterbacks with bull rushes.
As a run blocker, Williams can quickly shoot his hands to gain inside hand positioning, but he lacks violence behind that punch which limits how much movement he can generate in running lanes. He doesn’t always have his arms in synch with his legs which leaves him unable to create an initial jolt on his opponent to drive block him off the ball. Williams absorbs contact well but does not generate the power to redirect defenders.
Despite his massive frame, Williams is more of a technician than a mauler.
How Chris Williams Fits The Bills Offense
Williams is an upgrade over incumbent starter Legursky, so he is penciled into the starting left guard position this offseason.
The future of the position likely belongs to 2014 fifth-round selection Cyril Richardson, who offers more power as a run blocker but is not as technically sound as Williams. Williams can hold down the spot in the starting lineup until Richardson is ready to take it from him. That said, Bills coach Doug Marrone and his staff are not shy about putting rookies and other young players into starting roles, so that change may occur sooner than later.
It’s easy to see why the Bills were intrigued enough by Williams to add him ot their roster. Even though a player is typically a finished product after seven NFL seasons, a coach like Marrone, who has an offensive line background, can analyze Williams’ performance and help him develop the power aspect of his game to emerge as a productive starter for Buffalo.
With all the personnel additions to the offensive line group this offseason, there will be multiple position battles playing out, including Williams’ competition with Richardson and Legursky at left guard, to determine which five players should start for the Bills in their 2014 season opener.