Terrance “Pot Roast” Knighton is a phenomenal player. In the 2nd half of the 2013 season, and into the playoffs, there wasn’t a better defensive tackle in football. But 2nd year DT, Sylvester (henceforth known as ‘Sly’) Williams has the natural talent to be better. He even has it in him to be elite.
The Denver Broncos selected Sly with the 28th pick in the 1st round of the 2013 draft. And like fellow 1st rounder, Bradley Roby, the Broncos felt like they got a top-15 talent deep in the 1st round.
And they did. 2013 featured a VERY deep defensive tackle class with 1st round grades. Here is a list of DTs taken ahead of Sly.
- 13- Sheldon Richardson (Jets)
- 14- Star Lotulelei (Panthers)
- 23- Shariff Floyd (Vikings)
Counting Sly, four DTs were selected in the opening round of the draft that year. Compared to 2014, where 2 DTs were taken, it was a deep haul. Richardson went on on to become the Defensive Rookie of the Year, although the award could have just as easily gone to Lotulelei.
Both young tackles were immediate starters on their respective teams and both made huge impacts. Both players were also drafted by teams that were middle of the pack, at best. Neither the Jets, nor the Panthers, had made the playoffs in years, and in such circumstances, rookies, whether they be a QB, or a DT, are often plugged into the starting lineup immediately and cast into the fire. Sometimes it backfires. Sometimes it pays off.
In the case of Sly Williams, he was drafted to a team that had been to the playoffs in two straight seasons and was firmly entrenched in the “Super Bowl or Bust” expectation. Rookies seldom impact immediately on rosters that deep.
It was no different for Sly. He was behind Kevin Vickerson and Terrance Knighton on the Broncos’ defensive depth chart. Early reports on Sly’s rookie campaign were mixed. Although he flashed elite athleticism on the field, he struggled to assimilate with the playbook and scheme. The mental aspect of playing defensive tackle often comes with a steeper learning curve. Such was the case with Sly.
On defense, Sly saw a total of 300 snaps his rookie year. Because of his slow development, he was a healthy scratch for 3 games. However, following the injury to Vickerson, Sly was plugged into the starting lineup, finishing the regular season with four starts under his belt. His play was a bit inconsistent but in the last 3 games of the year, he finally showed the Broncos and the fans what he was made of. He tallied 12 combined tackles and 2 sacks in that stretch and was a key factor in the Broncos shutting down the running game of the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots in the playoffs.
As Sly transitions into year two of his career, I expect to see him build on what he was able to accomplish down the stretch. At 6’3, 313lbs, he possesses some rare traits for a man of such girth. He is very quick off the snap. His size makes it very hard to move him, which makes him a natural fit as a Nose Tackle. He’s a block consuming black hole.
But that short changes him. He’s more than that. He can two-gap. In college, Sly was known for his abilities as a violent tackler and backfield terror. In 2012, he had 13.5 tackles for a loss in 12 games played with the Tarheels. One of his strongest assets are his hands. And NFL coaching has only honed this skill. When he’s fresh, he can be dominant. He tends to struggle, however, when he gets winded. Motor issues were a big concern NFL teams had with Sly as a draft prospect. But any 300+lb man is going to have issues with stamina. It takes a lot of energy to animate and propel such a huge body. Ironically, NFL.com’s scouting report on Sly said that his closest NFL comparison was none other than Terrance Knighton.
When Sly was coming out of college, ESPN’s Sport Science did a feature on him, just like Von Miller. It’s a very illuminating piece. And it goes to show just how naturally talented this young player is.
Terrance Knighton came to Denver in 2013 on a 2-year $4M deal. And anyone can see that in one season, he’s outplayed his contract. Be that as it may, Knighton is not going to hold out and ask for more money. And if he can duplicate his 2013 production, he will likely price himself out of the Broncos’ ability to retain him.
That’s where Sly Williams becomes even more valuable. It is my belief that Sly Williams has it in him to be one of the NFL’s best defensive tackles. Even better than Knighton. With the prospect of fellow North Carolina Tarheel, Marvin Austion, also making waves for the Broncos, the team could have two young gems on the defensive line. If Sly can build on his late-season performance, the Denver Broncos will have a play-making rock to anchor their defensive line for years to come.
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