Was Leonard Williams really the best player in the draft?
You heard that the USC defense lineman was the best of the bunch so often between January and last Thursday that it just became the conventional wisdom. Mock drafts and big boards all over the web had Williams at or near the top.
But it appears that on the only big boards that matter, those belonging to the 32 NFL teams, Williams wasn’t necessarily on top of all of them, particularly those of the teams picking near the top of the draft. And in the only draft that wasn’t mock, Williams was the sixth player chosen.
You only need to look at how the draft unfolded to see that the media analysts may have been off base about Williams. Quarterbacks went with the first two picks, but that was more a reflection of how signal callers are overdrafted than it was of the quality of the other players in the draft pool. The draft really started with the third pick when the Jaguars took—Florida edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr. Williams apparently wasn’t the top player on their board.
Then the Raiders, who need help everywhere, bypassed Williams to take Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper. Perhaps that can be written off to the team desiring a top-quality target for second-year QB Derek Carr.
But then the Redskins went on the clock. According to multiple reports, their draft board had Fowler rated first, Cooper second, and Brandon Scherff third. So Williams was their fourth-ranked player at best.
The telling moment for Williams came when the Redskins were on the clock. General manager Scot McCloughan was looking to make a deal.
“I was hoping to be able to move back there and it didn’t happen,” he told reporters during his post-draft news conference on Monday. “Everybody was talking about trading up to our spot, but it was all for Fowler. Once Fowler went, then all the talks went off the board.”
And then Scherff went off the board with Washington’s selection. So not only did the teams draft third, fourth, and fifth not jump at the chance to take Williams, the interest in trading up for him when the fifth pick came up was minimal.
It’s all academic at this point. Williams landed in a good spot with the Jets, who have a defensive-minded head coach and we will see how his career goes. Maybe the Redskins and the other four teams that passed on him will be kicking themselves in a few years. But whether it was concern over his surgically-repaired right shoulder or perhaps questions about film showing him taking some plays off from time to time, a lot of NFL GMs were not as impressed with Williams as were the media talking heads.