The 2015 NFL Draft came and went for DeShawn Williams without hearing his name called. The talented defensive tackle out of Clemson was praised for his use of hands, strong upper body, and ability to eat up blocks. But, criticisms about his short stature, play strength, and issues in the pass rush caused him to be projected as a sixth round pick at best. After the Draft, he was still looking for a team to sign with and ended up landing with the Bengals.
In his rookie season, Williams generated a ton of buzz in training camp and even received comparisons to Geno Atkins from defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. He never quite made it to the active roster, but he did stick around on the practice squad all season, turning down an offer from the Saints to stay with the Bengals in December. With some further development this offseason, Williams could be the next undrafted success story for the Bengals.
Experience: Entering his second year
Weight: 295 pounds
Why he might improve in 2016
Last year's training camp hype aside, Williams has the unique ability to get through blocks while eating up an offensive line in the process. If he can take advantage of his hands and strong upper body, he could very well become the kind of player who can truly complement Atkins. It's unlikely that he would put together impressive statistics on a regular basis due to his technique and play strength. But, if he can catch up to the NFL speed, he could become the kind of player to clear a path for Atkins and open up the defense to entirely new play calls that wouldn't have worked before.
Why he might regress in 2016
As previously mentioned, Williams' height could make it difficult for him to truly make an impact at the NFL level. Yes, Atkins proved all of his doubters wrong when they said that he couldn't make it in the NFL as a defensive tackle because he was 6'1. But, he also possessed a certain level of quickness, lateral agility, and pass rushing ability that Williams hasn't shown yet.
Heading into 2016, Williams will have a lot of technique related areas to improve upon if he hopes to make the final 53-man roster this fall. Granted, he has been noted for having an impressive motor, much like the very highly regarded Atkins. But, he is going to have to learn to push through pass blockers and take more control of each play before final cuts if he wants a real chance to earn playing time.
Odds of making the roster
If he can learn to take advantage of the skills that he does possess, there's room for Williams to earn playing time. Heading into 2016, he'll be competing for a roster spot with Domata Peko, Brandon Thompson, Pat Sims, Andrew Billings, David Dean, and Marcus Hardison. Geno Atkins will be there too, but let's not kid ourselves on anyone beating him out. It's also pretty difficult to see Peko losing his spot on the roster, so that probably leaves just leaves a few open spots.
If I'm putting my money on any of those players getting one of the final spots, it would be the Bengals' 2016 fourth round steal, Andrew Billings. He has too much talent and potential for the Bengals to not give him every opportunity to succeed. It would be tough to see Williams, who is still eligible for the practice squad, beat out an experienced veteran like Thompson or Sims (though, Thompson is likely to begin the year on the PUP list due to a torn ACL). It would also be a challenge for Williams to beat out Hardison, an extremely talented and versatile lineman who was also added to the team in 2015, but via the NFL Draft.
It would be pretty surprising to see Williams end up with more than a practice squad role again in 2016, barring injury, but, he has the potential to show up in the preseason and force the Bengals to keep him on the roster.