INDIANAPOLIS — Maxx Williams walked up to the podium at the NFL Scouting Combine with plenty of confidence. A colloquial greeting to gathering reporters was the first in a series of moments that showed the 20-year-old tight end isn’t going to be intimidated as he takes the next step in his football career.
As the son of a former NFL player (Brian Williams, an offensive lineman for the New York Giants from 1989-99), Williams didn’t have to go far to seek advice about his future. And as he began his set of 21 formal interviews with teams during the combine process in Indianapolis, it only served to reassure Williams that he made the right decision.
"It started about midseason and kind of crossed my mind that maybe I have an opportunity to leave," Williams said. "I finished the year playing well, and after our last game against Wisconsin I really sat down with my parents. We actually made a list. I sat there, my parents and me, and said, ‘Pros of staying, pros of leaving, cons of staying, cons of leaving.’ Sat down there and weighed each option. Took our time and didn’t want to rush into anything or make a decision off of emotion.
"It was the right time for me to declare."
It seems like it would be difficult to rattle Williams with any question. He appeared as loose as any draft prospect ever has been. But it’s the questions from NFL teams about why he left the University of Minnesota so early that he considers the most difficult ones to address.
"But personally I can answer it because I know I left because I want to be the best I can," Williams said. "And to be the best you have to play against the best, because competition is what makes you better. So the way I explain of why I wanted to leave is I’m following my dreams to be a pro, following in my dad’s footsteps.
"I always strive to be the best I can at my position and in my sport, and going to the next level is how I can get to there."
Williams had 569 receiving yards as a redshirt sophomore this past season, which was the eighth-most in the nation among tight ends. The most impressive part of that achievement is that Williams put up those statistics in an offense that only produced a total 1,844 receiving yards. That ranked the Gophers 121st out of 128 teams in Division I college football.
As Williams projects his play style into the NFL game, he’d like to model it after Dallas’ Jason Witten.
"He’s a complete tight end, in my opinion," Williams said of Witten. "He blocks, he runs routes, he makes plays for his team. That’s what I want to be. I want to go in the NFL and be a complete tight end, be able to make plays with my hands but also in the run game be able to make key blocks."
Williams played this past season while weighing between 247 and 250 pounds. At his young age, he should still have time to grow into a bigger frame. Williams believes he could comfortably play at 260 pounds if asked to do so by the team that drafts him.
"I’d say my biggest weakness is my strength," Williams said. "Being only 20 years old, knowing my body isn’t fully developed of what it could develop into. But I feel like my biggest weakness could turn into one of my strengths as I turn 21, 22 and get those years and experience in the weight room just developing my body."
Williams is like Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb was in 2011, going through this pre-draft process before even turning 21 years old. As teams continue to study Williams’ game in the coming months, it stands to reason that they’ll be getting less of a finished product than a player who stayed through his senior season. But Williams looks at that as something that works in his favor.
"I think the sky’s the limit for what I can develop into," he said. "Being 20 with my strength that can develop, sky’s the limit. And being able to get into a system early on in my career being only 20, it gives me that much more time to develop into being what they want me to be and molding into being the best player I can be."
One team that could really use a tight end with Williams’ playmaking skills is Green Bay. Though the Packers drafted tight end Richard Rodgers in the third round in 2014, it’s a position that still needs work. Adding a down-the-seam receiving threat like Williams would give Green Bay’s offense what it’s been missing since Jermichael Finley suffered what is currently a career-ending neck injury in Week 7 of the 2013 season.
Though he was born and raised in the home state of the Vikings, Williams seemed excited at the mere possibility of crossing state borders into Wisconsin. The Packers are one of the teams Williams has a formal interview scheduled with.
In a lighter moment of his 10-minute media session, Williams explained that his first name is spelled the way it is "because my name is not Maxwell; so my parents thought being just a ‘Maxx’ if they threw a second X on it wouldn’t be as confusing."
But it didn’t matter if Williams was asked about his first name or about his weaknesses on the football field, he handled all of it in a way that is sure to impress NFL teams during the interview process. Perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise given the advice his father gave him.
"He’s told me my whole life, ‘Present yourself so people think you’re a gentleman," Williams said.