The Bengals continue to be the envy of many teams in the case of their work in the annual NFL Draft. Their classes largely get high grades and they just continue to find diamonds in the rough in the form of undrafted free agents. One of the recent treasures they uncovered was former Clemson Tiger defensive tackle, DeShawn Williams.
After flashing in the preseason last year as a rookie for Cincinnati, Williams just barely missed making the 53-man roster and was on the team's practice squad throughout 2015. Today, The Cincinnati Enquirer pointed out that Williams had an opportunity to jump up to an active roster last December with the New Orleans Saints.
The Cincinnati Bengals had signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Clemson that spring and kept him on the practice squad – but with four games left in the season, he had a chance to take a big leap: a league source indicated the New Orleans Saints called to offer him an immediate spot on the 53-man roster and playing time.
Williams had to take stock of the situation.
He was disappointed to not make the Bengals roster after an impressive preseason, but he looked down the line of lockers around him and realized that it's a business and a numbers game. The 10 linemen the team kept included two second-round picks, four third-round picks and three fourth-round picks, along with eight-year veteran Wallace Gilberry.
But he also became close to those players and the coaches.
He chose to stay.
New Orleans has a track record of preferring the smaller, quicker defensive tackles recently, ranging from Sedrick Ellis to this year's first round pick, Sheldon Rankins. Williams fits the bill at 6'1" and weighing near 290 pounds last year--and with the Saints out of contention late in the year (they were 5-8 when they made the reported call to attain Williams), they undoubtedly wanted to see if they had a future contributor at the spot. Both teams thought Williams had something special after he racked up two sacks in preseason on backup duty.
However, Williams remained loyal to the Bengals and stayed through the rest of the season. It paid off in his being called up to the final roster for the Wild Card game against the Steelers, but he was inactive in the contest. This offseason, he's hoping the loyalty and increased work in the weight room pay off in the form of a final roster designation at the onset of the regular season.
He has reportedly jumped from the 285 to 290-pound range of last year, to upwards of 300 pounds at April workout weigh-ins.
"It probably put 10 pounds of muscle on me," Williams told the Enquirer. "I’ve never been 300. Then my numbers in the weight room were up, so I was like OK, it’s a good thing. I didn’t lose a step from my quickness at all."
That trademark quickness is what made him a force throughout preseason last year. Though it was against other preseason backups, Williams was constantly in the backfield disrupting opposing offenses in limited opportunities. He hopes to have an even bigger impact this offseason, and though the team added Andrew Billings in the fourth round of this year's draft, Williams is grateful the tackle they selected isn't in the same mold as what he brings. Though it doesn't seem like it on the surface, it still gives him another opportunity to make the final roster this year.
"It shows a lot that they kept me around," Williams said. "They could’ve drafted a three-technique. This year, I have that mindset that it’s all fair game now. I had that year under me, and now I saw how it works. Now I have to make it count. Now I have to show them what I can do because this year, in my head, I want to play, and I think they know I want to play. So it’s me capitalizing on my opportunities."
Aside from Billings, the Bengals brought back rotational veterans Pat Sims and Brandon Thompson, which crowds the position a bit--especially if the team ends up signing Dominique Easley after his recent workout. But, with Thompson a likely candidate to start the year on the PUP List, Williams could have a foot in the door. Both veteran linemen have noted the skill and progress of Williams, with Thompson telling the Enquirer, "he's maturing fast. And, he works hard every day." Sims added that he's come a long way.
If Williams impresses again this offseason, the Bengals will have a tough decision to make for the second consecutive year. If they try to stash him on the practice squad again, they might not be as lucky as they were to keep him around for all of 2015.