Vince Williams saw a snap decrease in 2019, but roster changes and his ability have set him up for a huge bounce-back season for the Steelers
Since the tragic injury suffered by Ryan Shazier in 2017, the Steelers have suffered through a myriad of different starters at the ILB position. This issue was finally addressed last year when the Steelers traded up and selected Devin Bush in the draft. While he is primed to be a full-time starter this year, there are a lot of question marks surrounding who will play next to him.
Fans have been hyping fellow second-year player Ulysses Gilbert III but considering his lack of experience and the lack of an offseason for him to show his ability, the likelihood of him taking that next step isn’t likely. Most fans are sleeping on veteran Vince Williams though. All things considered; Williams looks primed to have a great year.
Williams’s story should be celebrated
Williams’s story is one to be celebrated with the Steelers. He went from a longshot 6th round draft pick in 2013, to a special team’s ace, and finally ascending to starter in 2017. That year, playing next to Shazier, Williams had his best season as a pro, logging 89 tackles, 8 sacks, and an interception. His hard-hitting and physical style was complimented by Shazier’s athleticism and finesse, akin to the “shake and bake” mantra that the two adopted together.
Looking at 2020, the Steelers LB’s will play in three base defenses: base 3-4, nickel, and dime, where the only time two ILB’s are on the field are on base 3-4 and nickel. Bush is primed to play nearly 100 percent of the snaps (assuming he remains healthy), meaning that the Steelers will still need roughly 66 percent of the snaps to be filled.
Last year, that role was shared between Mark Barron (nickel) and Williams (base). With Barron gone and Gilbert unproven, it seems likely that Williams resumes his role as the nickel LB as well, meaning his play percent will likely jump from 37 percent in 2019 to between 60-70 percent in 2020. This also means he will be on the field more often in passing situations, something that has long been Williams foe according to the fan base.
While Williams’s average athleticism and coverage skills make him a natural target in the passing game, he isn’t any worse at it than Barron was last year. Both averaged around 9 yards per reception and over 70 percent of the passes thrown this way. Is Williams elite in coverage? Far from it, but he can still be utilized that role even if it isn’t his strength.
Even with those issues, Williams has a lot of strengths that he provides for the team. While he is a natural at stopping the run, one of his best abilities is to rush the QB. Williams has a knack for slipping through the line on a blitz, blowing up the RB, and getting to the QB. That skill set is allowed much more freedom when his running mate can cover. His best season (2017) came when he played in nickel alongside Shazier, whose coverage ability allowed for Williams to rush the passer more aggressively since he wouldn’t have to focus as much on coverage.
2020 seems like a possible repeat year for Williams, as Bush showed in his rookie year some plus traits as a coverage LB. This means Williams will have more freedom to do what he does best and should have a strong year because of it. While he lost playing time to Barron last year, he has no such threat on the roster. Expect to see Williams on the field more often than last year.
All of this to say, Williams is lined up to have one of, if not his best seasons as a pro. I’d expect 5+ sacks for him and around 90 total tackles on the year. He does his best work next to an athlete, and Bush should fill that role well. His personality, love for the city, and underdog story make it hard to root against him. Don’t sleep on Williams this year; he’s proven his doubters wrong before and he looks set to do it again.1-