Artist Williams looks to perfect his craft in NFL
By MATT BARBATO
College Contributor Network
Leonard Williams is an artist, literally. His work has been featured in USC's Artletics exhibit and artwork has been a passion of his since he was younger.
"I've kind of always been interested in it and growing up in middle school I took a ceramics class," Williams said at the Gatorade Evolution of Football event Wednesday night at the Art Institute of Chicago. "That's kind of what I did at USC when I found out we had to take elective classes, so I just decided to do ceramics because I like to work with my hands."
Working with his hands is also something Williams will do at the professional level when he hears his name called early in Thursday night's NFL Draft.
Williams is an artist on the gridiron as well. The USC defensive end is widely regarded as the best prospect in the class and he said his creativity as an artist contributes to his talent on the defensive line.
"Definitely," Williams said when asked if he uses his artistic creativity when working on the football field. "I'll take something as simple as a swim move and try to critique it into my own personal way. Everybody's uniquely different in their own ways, so I try to find which best fits my own style of play."
On the field, Williams said his personal techniques were inspired by Denver Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who he loved to watch growing up. He's the reason Williams donned the number 94 at USC. Currently, Williams has tried to model his game off of Houston Texans defensive end J.J Watt.
"The biggest reason (he watches Watt) is cause obviously he's one of the best players ever to play defensive line," Williams said. "Also, his versatility. They kind of used me like that at USC playing all along the line. I try to see how he does it."
One reason Williams could go as high as second overall is because of his ability to fit into almost any scheme and any position. Williams said his aforementioned versatility is an important factor in the draft process.
"I think it's very important because it makes it easy for teams to scout me," Williams said. "They could see me fit wherever in their defense. Even if it's a team that needs an edge rusher they can always tell me they could also need a 3-technique. A team with a 3-4 could tell me I'll play defensive end. It makes it easier for teams to find me."
It's difficult to find things Williams needs to fix heading into the NFL. He is one of the most talented and polished athletes in this class. One thing he did say he was working on was establishing leverage and staying low when firing out of his stance.
"One of the main focuses is staying low," Williams said. "Being a tall guy, I tend to stand up a lot and football is a game of leverage. I see it on film a lot of times where if I don't have the right leverage, then guys can get under my pads and beat me when I probably have the better talent."
For Williams, improving that aspect of his game comes from practice and repetition, just like an artist working to perfect a ceramics technique.
"It's definitely a habit. It's the same way with your hands. That's one of my strengths because I worked on it every day. I worked on it after practice and stuff like that. I have to go into practice every day and remind myself 'Stay low, stay low, stay low.'"
Williams might be the best prospect in this draft, but the best prospect doesn't always go first. Williams could be the biggest loser in the Marcus Mariota sweepstakes depending on how the situation plays out. He said he is nervous about finding out where he will land Thursday night, but added that he expects to be taken at the top.
"At the end of the day, going top-10 is a dream come true and an even higher expectation than I ever dreamed of," Williams said. "At the same time, I've worked hard for this and I definitely want to go as high as I possibly can."
Whichever team lands Williams can be assured it is getting a versatile artist on the defensive line that is always trying to hone his craft.
Matt Barbato is a senior at Marquette University. His favorite sport is football and is an avid New York Jets fan, for better or worse. You can follow him on Twitter @RealMattBarbato