The Philadelphia Eagles signed undrafted rookie free agent defensive tackle Raequan Williams following the 2020 NFL Draft. In order to learn more about him, I reached out to SB Nation’s Michigan State blog: The Only Colors. Spartans writer Ryan O’Bleness was kind enough to answer my questions.
1) Can you recap his college career?
Williams was a leader at Michigan State, as he was a team captain in 2019 and a three-time member of Michigan State’s prestigious Eagles leadership counsel. He was also an iron man at Michigan State, starting 42 consecutive games at nose tackle. Williams earned multiple All-Big Ten honors, including being named to the first-team by the Associated Press in both 2018 and 2019. Overall, Williams finished his career as a Spartan with 160 tackles, including 29 for loss, 11.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Williams was an extremely important player on one of the nation’s best defenses (which I’ll get more into below) and is viewed by his peers as an incredible teammate. For more on his career and accolades, check out his pre-Draft profile.
2) What are his strengths?
His biggest strength is most definitely as a run-stuffer. In fact, in each of the last three years, Michigan State boasted a top-16 rush defense nationally, including being No. 1 in the country in that regard in 2018 and No. 2 in the country in 2017. Williams was a huge reason for that. That isn’t to say he is ineffective as an interior pass-rusher, though. He can pretty much play anywhere from the zero to the three-technique, and bullrush his ways into sacks (he recored 11.5 in his career). Once he gets going, he moves surprisingly well for somebody who is 6-foot-4, 308 pounds. He makes a lot of sense in Philadelphia’s 4-3 front, as that is what he played in throughout his career at Michigan State.
3) What are his weaknesses?
Williams is not overly athletic, and while I mentioned he moves fairly well once he’s going, his acceleration and get off from the snap is something he needs to work on. Something scouts knocked him on was that he often got washed out of the play by angle blocks in particular. He sometimes struggled to get off blocks quickly enough to make the play, but playing defensive tackle, his job (in addition to stuffing the run when he could get there) was to take on blocks and free up the linebackers. Another thing he probably needs to work on are his pass-rushing moves, so he’s not just relying on his play strength to get into the backfield. He had a surprisingly bad performance at the NFL Combine on the bench press with just 17 reps, but make no mistake, he has a powerful upper-body he uses to try to win against offensive linemen. If he adds in some moves to his arsenal, he could wreak havoc on opposing offenses.
4) Are you surprised he went undrafted?
I am. Most projections had him as a Day Three pick, and I figured he would go somewhere between the fifth and seventh rounds, but NFL teams felt differently I suppose. He’s a leader and great teammate who was a key cog in Michigan State’s incredibly stout defense. He has good size, and had a highly productive and durable career against Big Ten competition. He also earned numerous accolades. So, yeah, I thought it was surprising, but the Eagles may have found a gem amongst the undrafted free agent crowd.
5) How do you see his NFL career playing out?
Leading up to the Draft, I viewed Williams as a rotational player to start his professional career, with the ceiling and work ethic to eventually earn a starting spot. The Eagles have a pretty deep defensive line with Derek Barnett and Brandon Graham on the ends, and Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson in the middle. It might be hard for Williams to earn a spot in that lineup, but with players like Cox and Jackson aging, the Eagles could view Williams as a long-term replacement — I noticed the team didn’t draft any defensive tackles and he was the only one signed by the team as an undrafted free agent. If he is able to make the 53-man roster, I would think Williams’ role as a rookie would be on par with my initial feeling of him starting out as a rotational defensive tackle in certain packages or when a starter needs a breather. Of course, it’s possible the Eagles don’t have room for him in that lineup and try to stash him on the practice squad. Again, I wouldn’t be totally shocked if he eventually worked his way up to a starting role, whether that’s with the Eagles or another team, but I think he has a lot of developing to do prior to that becoming a reality. I think it will be an added benefit to be able to learn from veterans like Cox, Jackson and Graham, who have all enjoyed success in the NFL.
6) Anything to know about him off the field?
Williams has an incredibly sad backstory. He grew up in a tough Chicago neighborhood and was raised by a young mother (who had him at the age of 14), whom he credits as his role model. Unfortunately, he lost both his younger brother and his cousin to gun violence. Obviously, this took an emotional toll on Williams and he almost quit the sport of football, but he found the strength to continue with it. Despite all of that adversity, Williams has an infectious personality and positive outlook. He was a leader and captain at MSU, and former Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio would often say that he expects Williams to one day be the mayor of Chicago. He is the kind of player you want in your locker room.
BLG’s take: The Eagles had a draftable grade on Williams and gave him the second highest guaranteed money figure out of their 13 UDFA signings. He could theoretically push Hassan Ridgeway for the fourth defensive tackle spot but the veteran is the favorite to win the job. Williams could make the roster if the Eagles keep five defensive tackles. If not, he’s a strong contender to make the practice squad.