Should James Williams Considering Switching to Linebacker to Aid his Stock in the 2024 NFL Draft?

Miami Hurricanes star and 2024 NFL Draft prospect James Williams played safety his entire college career, but could a move to linebacker be on the horizon?

After a successful college career with the Miami Hurricanes at safety, could former five-star recruit James Williams make the switch to linebacker in the NFL? Here’s more on Williams’ projection and how teams might view the 2024 NFL Draft prospect at the next level.

NFL Teams Exploring James Williams’ Potential at Linebacker

Since his high school days, when he was given a five-star recruit designation, Williams was seen as a unicorn and a potential position-less prospect on the defensive side of the ball.

At Miami, Williams settled into the safety position alongside fellow 2024 NFL Draft prospect Kamren Kinchens and thrived across a three-year span. In his time with the Hurricanes, Williams amassed 162 tackles, including two tackles for loss, four picks, 13 PBUs, and three forced fumbles.

Williams played well enough in coverage for his long 6’4 3/8″ frame, but often, when Kinchens was tasked with playing as the center fielder in single-high coverages, Williams would find himself roaming closer to the box as a tight-end matchup piece and support defender.

Williams thrived in the support role, using his high-end explosiveness, size, and physicality to function as a sledgehammer against ill-fated ball carriers. And NFL teams clearly took notice.

After a strong 2023 campaign, Williams declared for the 2024 NFL Draft as a true junior. He also earned an invite to the Reese’s Senior Bowl. At the event, he measured in at 230 pounds — over 10 pounds heavier than his listed college weight — and he was designated as a linebacker, not a safety.

In fact, not only was Williams listed as an LB at the Senior Bowl, but he drilled with the LBs throughout the entire week, and he took reps against tight ends and running backs in coverage drills.

Is Williams’ Senior Bowl showing at LB a harbinger of things to come for the college safety, or is his projection a bit more complex?

What Position Will Williams Play in the NFL?

More likely than not, Williams will play primarily as a linebacker and box defender in the NFL. At 6’4 3/8″, 230 pounds, with 33 1/8″ arms, he has the ideal frame for the position, and his terse physicality in support meshes stylistically with that role.

All-Star events often take the input of NFL teams into account when formulating their rosters and filling out positions. Thus, it bears noting that Williams drilled entirely with the linebackers in Mobile. It’s ultimately a reflection of how the NFL projects his skill set.

That said, within the linebacker role, there is still some flexibility for Williams to work with. In his time playing safety, he adopted solid pedal technique and throttle control, as well as good functional processing ability, route recognition, and matching skills in zone.

For Williams, the limitations projecting to the NFL as a safety derive from his frame. He has above-average fluidity at over 6’4″. But at that size, he simply isn’t able to sink and redirect as smoothly as other, more compact defenders. Against NFL wideouts, that could be an issue.

Thus, Williams’ best role will likely come as a nickel or weak-side LB who can match up against tight ends in the slot, RBs out of the backfield, and attack downhill on early downs with his elite explosiveness and physicality. And with a creative defensive mind and good coaching, more upside as a blitzing threat and disguise defender could be unlocked.

There isn’t a one-to-one comparison for Williams himself, but Cowboys defender Markquese Bell can help provide a glimpse into this kind of transition.

Bell joined the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2022 after playing safety at Florida A&M. In 2023, he switched to LB in Dan Quinn’s defense and emerged as a solid contributor. His versatility, in particular, allowed him to bring an extra element to that role.

Bell’s position switch can be viewed as a potential blueprint for Williams, but Williams has visibly greater upside within that lens. Bell is only 205 pounds, and his play strength was an issue in the box at times. Williams won’t have that issue nearly as often.

MORE: Top Safeties in the 2024 NFL Draft

Williams will be able to play matchups in coverage and line up in off-man or zone against tight ends. Meanwhile, in the box, he’ll be able to enforce against the run, encumber blocks, and attack open lanes to the ball.

All the 2024 NFL Draft resources you need — the draft order, the top QBs, the Top 100 prospects, and the full 2024 Big Board — right at your fingertips at Pro Football Network!

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