Pound-for-pound Leonard Williams is the best player on the USC roster, and that carries a lot of weight.
The 6-5, 310-pound defensive lineman is a matchup nightmare for opposing offensive linemen. The junior is considered to be the best defensive lineman in the country and is projected to be a top-five pick in the NFL Draft. A natural defensive end, as a freshman he was moved inside to tackle.
Last season, when the Trojans switched to a 3-4, Williams moved back out to end. In 2014, in a new system but still in a 3-4, there’s a chance Williams could line up just about anywhere on the defensive line. His flexibility makes it difficult for opposing defenses to prepare for the matchup.
Strengths: His impact on the field is tough to miss. USC head coach Steve Sarkisian has mentioned a number of times in fall camp just how tough it is for his offense to run the ball when Williams is on the field.
While coaches are very grateful for the type of impact Williams can have on any given play, they marvel at his passion for the game. When someone has the passion, they tend to enjoy "the process" of getting better. The best player on the USC football team also is one of the team’s hardest workers. He’s always going non-stop whether it’s a random practice during fall camp or a Saturday afternoon in the Coliseum in October.
Weaknesses: When you’re as dominant as Williams, you’re going to face a lot of double teams. That’s the part of his game that he wants to improve the most. He wants to destroy double teams, but one issue he comes across is his pad level being too high at times. As is the case with a lot of tall players, it can be troublesome at times to get low. Williams, at 6-5, is no exception. He also feels the need to improve in his pass rush to improve on his 14 career sacks.
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Key stat: 27. Williams has 27 tackles for loss in 26 career games at USC.
Quotable: "If there’s a critique of mine (of Williams) it’s, maybe, don’t beat up on the guys so hard when we’re not in pads," USC head coach Steve Sarkisian.
Final Thoughts: There was a feeling around USC that Williams was special from the moment he walked on campus. As a freshmanm, he was asked to move inside to defensive tackle to fill a void the team had on the defensive line. He did so and exceeded any expectations that could have been set for him.
Williams finished that year with 13.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks while earning Freshman All-American honors. He followed that up with a stellar sophomore campaign despite playing nearly the entire year with a shoulder injury that would require offseason surgery. No one could tell. What Williams hopes to show is in 2014 is a healthier version of his 2013 self, which isn’t exactly good news for opposing offenses.