Film Breakdown: Jonah Williams Has Chance to Become Franchise Anchor in Trenches for Bengals

The 23-year-old showed promise last season.
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The Bengals drafted Jonah Williams with the 11th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft because they thought he could be an anchor in the trenches for years to come.

He suffered a torn labrum during OTA's during his rookie season, which kept him off the field. Williams made his debut last year, making 10 starts before suffering another season-ending injury. 

This would lead some to believe that he is an injury-prone player, but in college he played in nearly every game since becoming a starter as a freshman. 

There was a heavy debate among fans and analysts over whether the Bengals should draft Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell. Zac Taylor supported Williams as the left tackle of the team both publicly and by not drafting a possible replacement like Sewell. 

Let’s dive into the film from what was essentially Williams' rookie year to watch what he does well and which areas need improvement.

From a 10,000 foot view, Williams excels in pass protection and needs improvement in the run game. However, this is a deep dive and we will be examining him from a more microscopic viewpoint. When it comes to pass protection, the thing that I find the most impressive about Williams is his processing ability. This shows up when picking up blitzes and stunts.

Before we look deeper, let's define what processing is. It is the ability to quickly gather information that allows a player to make plays. It’s essentially what comes to mind when you think of a cerebral type of player. Instincts can be translated to quick processing. 

When it comes to quarterbacks, it is the ability to quickly diagnose the defense and get the ball out to the open receiver. With running backs, it is the ability to read the defense and cut to the open hole. When it comes to offensive linemen, it is the ability to see blitzes, stunts, and slants in time to successfully pick them up.

This play shows off his progression as his eyes move from his pre-snap assignment at 9T (DE lined up well outside the OT) to the blitzing linebacker lined up outside of the tight end. Jonah’s quick processing is the understanding that when his assignment leaves he needs to be prepared for either a stunt or blitz. Seeing that the man to his inside is being blocked he works his eyes outside and finds the blitzer. He reaches the blitzing linebacker before he becomes a threat and gets right in front of him to make the block. A slower processing offensive tackle would either give up a quarterback hit or at least give up half-man leverage on the outside.

The last play was a nice look at the progression of eye movement, but this is probably the best play Williams made last season. It is almost entirely about his processing ability to pick up this late blitzer, but I will point out that he was blocking Myles Garrett one-on-one on this play prior to the diving block. Knowing that Garrett working him inside like this could be a setup, Williams peeks outside and sees the free runner screaming downhill at Joe Burrow. This is one of his best traits and it showed up plenty last season when he consistently picked up stunts and blitzes.

Here is another angle of that play showing how he just got enough of the blitzer to save Burrow’s life. His lateral agility here is really impressive, as he goes from two quick kicks out to set against Garrett, then he pivots and works inside to stop the move, finally opening up and making the diving block. This is not something that is taught by offensive line coaches but is a really nice reflection of Williams' processing, instincts, awareness, and agility.

Williams' processing shows up in the run game as well. Here, he quickly reacts to the defensive end crashing inside and walls him off. He actually reacts so quickly that he only has one step outside before he sees what is happening and reacts to wall off the defender rather than try to fight the current and push him outside.

Williams’ agility and athleticism is the next best trait in his game. Despite a relatively poor performance in the agility drills during pre-draft workouts, he has proven to be a good athlete on the field. The last few plays are meant to showcase his processing and awareness, but they also do a nice job of looking at his agility to change direction quickly.

The agility to change direction three times on one play while blocking a good pass rusher is high-level stuff. Williams sets vertically first in order to stop the speed rush from Matthew Judon. After that fails, Judon moves to an inside move which Williams mirrors and works to stop. Judon then tries a spin back outside, but Williams follows him and stops him again. Agility to keep up with a player like Judon, then the technical ability to stop all three of these moves as well.

Williams did well in all of the speed areas of the combine (40-yard dash, 10-yard split, 20-yard split), so it should be no surprise that on film he can move very well when pulling. On this play he sprints out to lead the way and ends up taking out a player with a cut block. That allows Mixon to keep working upfield. These two plays highlight the agility and athleticism that Williams possesses.

One more strength of his game comes in the form of technical ability. Specifically, his feet and kick slide stand out. Once again, I am going to define the term before we dive in further. 

A kick slide is the first few steps outside and backwards that offensive tackles take on pass plays. The idea is to quickly gain depth and width to create the pocket while maintaining balance. There is a lot more nuance to it, but that is your basic look at what exactly a kick slide is.

Williams' kick slide is on full display here, along with his patience. You can see that he never extends too far on his kicks and that he is quickly gaining the previously mentioned depth and width to help create the pocket. By the time that Clayborn gets his first step into the ground, Williams has already taken two kicks. Despite moving this quickly, he maintains the inside-out leverage every offensive tackle is looking to keep early in a pass rep. Then, when Clayborn starts to try an inside move on him, Williams pivots his inside foot back and hits him with both hands in a two-hand under punch. This lifts Clayborn off of the ground and ends the pass rush attempt. All of this is possible because of the kick slide that Williams used at the beginning.

Here is another example of Jonah taking advantage early on a play by using a quick kick slide. Look at how his feet are almost touching the ground on every step. Just like in the last play, Jonah is able to get two kicks into the ground before the defender finishes his first step. This is the beginning of a great rep. He keeps himself on the inside half of the defender and then throws out his outside hand and pulls it back (also known as a “flash” technique). This gets Judon to throw out his move ineffectively which allows Williams to punch and finish the rep. If he didn't have such a nice kick slide he wouldn't be in position to win this rep in the same way.

Now that we have discussed the three main strengths of Williams’ game, we can take a look at the areas that are weaknesses or need improvement. As I mentioned near the top in my 10,000 foot view, Williams needs to be better in the run game. Let’s get microscopic and see what areas he could improve.

This play shows some of the areas that I thought were a weakness when it comes to run blocking. It starts with a slight lack of strength in the upper body, which is expected when an offensive tackle is lighter. Williams is just a hair over 300 pounds which is in the bottom 12% of offensive tackles according to Mockdraftable. 

He slows down just a little bit before contact because he is making sure to line up this block so that he does not whiff. This is alright, but it allows the defender to position himself better and make it harder to move him. Finally, he does a good job of rolling his hips into the block on contact, but he needs to accelerate his feet when making contact as well to use his lower half as a power generator. 

His feet stall which is the opposite of what offensive line coaches want to see. I do think that this is a weakness he can overcome, but it is a group of problems that need to be addressed by new offensive line coach Frank Pollack. Williams' margin of error is smaller in the run game due to his slimmer frame. Meaning that these technical issues are a larger problem for someone like him rather than a 330 pound guy.

I also wanted to show that Williams still showed high level run blocking like on this play. When he does not slow down and keeps his feet moving through contact, he has shown the ability to be an asset in the run game.

The other context that I want to give to Williams' run blocking is that he was one of the best members on the Bengals offensive line when it came to combo and double teams even though he played next to some of the worst left guards in the entire NFL. In this play, Williams and  Michael Jordan drive the nose tackle back to the WILL linebacker taking him out of the play without personally blocking him. Williams is the one who ignites the movement on the combo block while Jordan is the setup guy. This proves that Williams does possess the strength to be a positive factor in the run game.

Another area that was a slight concern was his part-time reliance on a two hand punch. This is when an offensive tackle will “punch” the defensive player with both arms, at the same time, with their arms at the same level.

This is the prime example that I think of when looking back at Williams' usage of a two hand punch. He beats Josh Sweat to the spot with a great kick slide, but then when he goes to engage Sweat, he punches with both hands. Sweat’s move here is a two hand swipe move. The two hand swipe beats the two hand punch. It is basically rock and scissors. 

If an offensive tackle chose two hand punch, and the defender chose two hand swipe, then the defender should win the rep. This is no different here as Sweat beats Williams and sacks Burrow. This happens because the swipe move takes away both of Jonah’s hands giving him a free run around the outside. He is unable to recover as well because he ends up with too much forward momentum from the punch which is common. This is one of the main reasons that independent hand usage has become so popular among offensive linemen. The good news for both Bengals fans and Williams is that Pollack comes from the school of independent hand usage and should get him to use that rather than two hand punching.

The last area of concern is one that goes back to Williams’ college career. It is the lack of length as an offensive tackle. His arm length is not atrocious by any means, but it is shorter than average at 33⅝”. That is in the 30th percentile according to Mockdraftable.

Here is where the arm length concerns are most apparent. Williams doesn't have the length to recover normally against long arm bull rushes. If the long arm perfectly hits him in the chest he is unable to push back with his own arms. This is because the defender outreaches him. It is another area that makes the margin for error slimmer. 

Pollack needs to teach Williams to protect his chest better (along with ways to get the long arm off of your chest). This is the area that is the hardest to overcome, but even if he only gets marginally better at dealing with his lack of length, he can still be a great left tackle.

This play is the main reason I am not as concerned about Williams' problems with the long arm. It was not an anchor issue, but rather a length issue which could mean that he really has one area that needs work rather than two. In this play, Garrett goes full sprint into Williams as part of his bull rush. 

Jonah is able to sit down and drop the anchor to stop one of the best edge rushers bull rushes. If Williams can anchor in against Garrett converting speed to power, then he should be able to anchor and stop any edge rushers bull rush.

One thing to remember when looking back on Williams’ 2020 campaign, is that he was essentially a rookie during the year. While I do think there are areas of his game that need work, nearly every other rookie would also have areas in need of improvement. 

Williams, 23, is young enough to be expected to take pretty large progressions over the next few years. All of that considered, I think Jonah is a solid player. He is on the cusp of becoming a truly good player and I would expect the previously mentioned progression to happen in 2021. 

In fact, the progression becomes even more likely when you factor in the better coaching along the offensive line with the addition of Pollack. He should also improve with better play at left guard in 2021. There is plenty to be excited about with what could be the cornerstone of the Bengals offensive line.

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