Philadelphia Eagles: Milton Williams set a good foundation

Jonathan Gannon really wanted Milton Williams to be a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.

It was evident on Day 2 of the 2020 NFL Draft, in his media availability before the season, and even in the team’s playoff bout versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where Gannon had Williams on the field for 53 percent of the snaps versus one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.

At 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, Williams is the Eagles’ second-most athletically gifted edge rusher behind only Josh Sweat, and when he lines up over guards, he’s something else entirely; something few interior offensive linemen have any experience defending.

Did Williams turn in an all-time great rookie season? No, even if you factor his advanced defensive stats into the equation, the pride of LA Tech still finished out the season with six QB hits, five hurries, and two sacks, with 30 combined tackles on 456 defensive snaps.

Fortunately, with a quality rookie season now on the books, the future is looking bright for the Philadelphia Eagles’ 2020 third-round pick.

Milton Williams should be a player for the Philadelphia Eagles for years to come.

In a 3-4 defensive front, Milton Williams would be an unquestioned, guaranteed, borderline every-down starter for years to come. He has the size to play the gap game, the speed to burst through open holes as a rusher, and the strength to collapse a pocket against both the pass and the run.

But in a 4-3 scheme? Well, let’s just say Williams is far from prototypical.

Now, a courageous defensive coordinator would simply call Williams a defensive end and move on with their lives. While Willaims is a good 20 pounds heavier than Brandon Graham, he theoretically could be used in a similar way, played on the outside early, and then kicked inside on third downs to facilitate a speedy four-man front on obvious passing downs.

If Williams takes a step forward as a passer and can string together a few BG-esque seasons, that is likely what will happen.

Alternatively, the team could opt to use Williams situationally on the outside and as a third option on the interior, rotating into the game in place of Fletcher Cox and/or Javon Hargrave. That strategy is a time-honored one and has kept more than a few “tweeners” employed for longer than they should have by NBA teams, but Williams is different; he’s legitimately big/fast/strong enough to produce numbers on the inside, too, and has quite a few choice snaps on his game film of bullying up on slower, less athletic guards.

Either way, no matter what you want to call Williams, it’s clear the Eagles are better off with him on their roster than off of it, especially if the team can secure an upgrade at defensive end opposite Josh Sweat and get a few more good seasons out of ole BG.

Unlike in Jim Schwartz’s system, where defensive linemen were tasked with attacking the offensive backfield on virtually every snap, Jonathan Gannon runs a more Mike Zimmer-y scheme, where he runs a two-high safety look, and the entire defense sans cornerbacks have responsibilities versus the run. In such a scheme, Williams’ athletic profile is an incredible asset regardless of where he’s lined up, as he can fill in gaps, take up space, and recover from a missed rush to swarm whoever has the ball.

If a team is going to bet big on an unconventional defensive lineman, they may as well do so on one with a comparable athletic profile to Aaron Donald.

Are the Philadelphia Eagles set on the defensive line? No, they ranked 31st in team sacks over the 2021 NFL season and will all but surely be without Derek Barnett in 2022, even if he only produced two sacks over a full 16 game season. Still, even if Howie Roseman goes out and signs a player like Jadeveon Clowney or selects someone like George Karlaftis or Arnold Ebiketie in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, don’t be surprised if Milton Williams takes a big step forward in Year 2, especially if he can produce numbers more in line with his on-field impact.