Jeff McLane: 👎
In terms of projection, Milton Williams was probably Howie Roseman’s greatest gamble of the draft. Is the defensive lineman a tweener without a defined position, or does he have versatility? Is he too small (6-foot-4, 278 pounds) for the inside and too big for the outside, or will his speed and power allow for him to win matchups?
I don’t know, but what I do is that a few scouts told me his tremendous Pro Day numbers didn’t translate to the field. With the right coaching, maybe it does in the NFL. There were also a few evaluators who said Williams showed enough in college to believe he can make the transition. But there were also concerns about instinct and effort.
“I had him down as an early Day 3 guy based solely upon the film,” a senior scout said. “We moved him up to Day 2 because he was a freak [at his Pro Day]. He could end up the best defensive tackle in this class. But he’s undersized and had some trouble at the point of attack against a lesser level of competition.”
Another evaluator questioned whether Williams could get separation inside with just 31½-inch arms.
“He will have trouble getting off blocks,” the evaluator said. “A lot of his sacks came off coverage. He can probably play both 4-3 end and tackle on third downs because of his size.”
A few scouts loved Williams’ upside and said his untapped potential could make him one of the steals of the draft. I guess that alone would make him worth the third-round price. A number of draft analysts had him ranked among the top five at his position. He went fourth after Christian Darmore, Levi Onwuzurike, and Alim McNeill.
At least one Eagles staffer had McNeill rated ahead of Williams. Senior football adviser Tom Donahue was caught by ESPN cameras having an icy encounter with Roseman after the Wiliams pick. The GM traded back from No. 70 to 73 for a sixth-rounder, and McNeill was taken by the Lions at 72.
Roseman confirmed Tuesday on WIP that Donahoe wanted McNeill, a 6-foot-2, 317-pounder who projects more as a nose tackle. But Donahoe wasn’t the only Eagles staffer who had him slotted ahead of Williams, two sources said. And Donahoe, upset over the selection, also argued against trading back when the Eagles already had three sixth-round picks.
The Eagles picked Coastal Carolina defensive end Tarron Jackson with that new pick. They traded one of the other sixth-rounders along with a seventh-rounder for a 2022 fifth-rounder.
No one knows who will end up being the better player. My reason for voting thumbs down on Williams doesn’t have much to do with McNeill. They have different skill-sets but conceivably will work in any scheme depending upon usage. The Eagles passed on some other highly-touted talents as well. But Williams seems like another workout wonder who was endorsed by the analytics but not as much by actual football.
Les Bowen: 🤷♂️
Williams is a spider-graph sensation, an athletic marvel who hasn’t really translated his speed and quickness to dominant play. The Eagles love these guys. Witness linebacker Davion Taylor in the third round last year.
The problem is, you can’t line a spider graph up to take a third-down snap. Taylor, for all his alleged athleticism, never even won a consistent special teams role in 2020. He seemed light-years away from even a basic understanding of how to play linebacker in the NFL.
Williams is kind of a Vinny Curry-sized guy: big for a defensive end, small for a defensive tackle, though Curry’s arms were 32¾ inches vs. Williams’ 31½. I guess that means you could use him at either spot situationally, as the Eagles once did with Curry. Nothing wrong with that.
Where there might be something wrong is in assessing Williams vs. other players the Eagles could have drafted. We know senior football adviser Tom Donahoe didn’t want to trade back from 70 to 73 in the third round and lose out on defensive tackle Alim McNeill. We also know that players, such as corner Ifeatu Melifonwu (taken 101st overall by the Lions) and linebacker Jabril Cox (115th overall, Cowboys), were still on the board when the Eagles went for Williams. We’ll see how all that pans out.
EJ Smith: 👎
The Eagles got too cute. It’s possible Howie Roseman believed there wasn’t much difference between Williams and the two players who went ahead of him, but I’m not as sure.
As reported by my colleague, Donahoe preferred North Carolina State defensive tackle Alim McNeill over Williams. He wasn’t alone in that assessment. Pro Football Focus had McNeill as the second-highest ranked defensive tackle in the class behind only Christian Barmore. PFF had Williams ranked third, but he was ranked 19 spots lower on the site’s overall rankings.
Even though Donahoe preferred McNeill, there’s also a case to be made for Robinson over Williams. The Eagles’ most pressing cornerback need may be on the outside, and Robinson primarily played in the slot at Central Florida. But finding a long-term starter in the slot is still incredibly valuable. The era of undersized, shifty receivers exclusively occupying the slot are dwindling. As more teams deploy more diversity in the slot, adding a bigger nickel defender capable of covering both tight ends, big receivers, or shifty guys makes a lot of sense.
Williams’ athletic testing makes him plenty interesting, too. If he can hold up against more powerful linemen as a three-technique, he should be able to use his speed and agility to eventually become a quality pass rusher. Considering the hit rate at this point in the draft, it’s just as likely he’ll become the best player in this group. Still, giving up the chance to have your pick of those players wasn’t worth it for the return (the team added its fourth sixth-rounder in order to trade back). Especially considering this was a thin draft in the later rounds, such a move is a head-scratcher.
Paul Domowitch: 👎
In the 2020 draft, the Eagles overdosed on analytics and seemed to base too many of their picks on who could run faster and jump higher rather than just focusing on the damn tape and taking the best football players.
They did a better job with that this year, but it clearly came into play with the selection of Williams, who outran and outjumped pretty much every defensive tackle in the draft at his Pro Day.
It’s still unclear how defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon envisions using this kid. They slid him up and down the line at Louisiana Tech. He played at 260 pounds there and often was overpowered against the run when he slid inside. But he bulked up to 285 during the predraft process.
Do they think he can be a three-technique tackle, a la Fletcher Cox, at this level? Or do they see him more as a Vinny Curry-type of player who they can line up on the outside in base and slide inside as a rusher in nickel sub-packages?
If that’s the case, his short arms — just 31½ inches — are going to be a real problem for him on the outside against opposing NFL offensive tackles. And if they envision him as a 3-tech, well, I don’t think he’s got the power to do that.
“At Louisiana Tech, he got swallowed up and knocked off the ball inside,” NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger said. “If they play him inside, I don’t see it right now. Even at a pumped-up 285, the only way you can play inside at that weight is if you just have Aaron Donald-type quickness, where you can see the double team coming and split it. But those guys are rare.”
The Eagles obviously think he has that type of quickness. We’ll see.
They took Williams with the 73rd overall pick after a needless, just-showin’-off trade-down by Roseman from No. 70 that netted them yet another sixth-round pick in a year when everybody was trying to dump their late-round picks because of all the players who stayed in school and used the extra year of eligibility the NCAA offered.
The two players that were then taken ahead of Williams — cornerback Aaron Robinson of Central Florida and defensive tackle Alim McNeill of North Carolina State — both were guys I would’ve rather had.
Robinson, who was selected by the Giants, was one of the draft’s top slot corners. You can make the case that the Eagles probably are going to move 5-9 Avonte Maddox back inside to the slot. But he’s had durability issues. They drafted a corner, Zech McPhearson of Texas Tech, in the fourth round with pick No. 123. But McPhearson has never played in the slot.
The 6-2, 317-pound McNeill might not be as athletic as Williams, but is much harder to move and is a much better interior run-defender.
Tom Donahoe, the senior adviser whose disapproval with the Williams pick and trade-down was caught on camera, preferred McNeill to Williams, according to Roseman.
This is just me, but I’ve known Tom a long time, and respect him as much as any scout in the business. And I’m taking his opinion over anybody else in that Eagles’ draft room.