Big Dan is officially headed to the Big Stage.
And Arizona stumbled into an unlikely surprise in adding the former Tennessee defensive tackle to the cast.
Dan Williams didn’t sneak into the top-10 picks as some experts projected, but that worked out just fine for the Cardinals, who swooped in at No. 26 to take the 6-foot-2, 327-pounder to anchor the middle of their defensive line. Williams had been a candidate to go much higher in the NFL draft on Thursday night in New York City, but trades, his status as a nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme and a few surprises by other franchises helped Arizona land a massive building block for its defense.
“I tell you what, I did a projection on ESPN.com this morning and had Williams dropping to (No.) 26, and that was only because I couldn’t fit him in anywhere else,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said during the telecast. “It wasn’t because I thought he would drop, I just couldn’t find a spot for a 3-4 nose tackle, and when you look at Arizona, they need an upgrade at that position.”
The Cardinals should get it from a guy who did the same with his stock during a breakout senior season for the Vols, getting a handle on his weight and emerging as one of the most difficult blocking assignments up front in the country.
Williams was a load thanks to his blend of strength and speed, piling up 70 tackles, nine takedowns for a loss and 2.5 sacks while showing off a tireless motor and chasing plays sideline-to-sideline. That completely changed the perception of his pro potential, which a year ago some scouts thought was limited to signing as a free agent after the draft.
Now he’ll be signing a guaranteed contract with a sizable bonus instead.
“(The Cardinals) went and they trusted their board,” NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said after the pick. “This is way too good of a football player to fall all the way down to No. 26.
“That’s a great job by the Arizona Cardinals in trusting their board. Now they’ve got a dominant interior presence to pair with Darnell Dockett, I really like what they did there.”
Williams surely won’t have any complaints with their work either, but his wait in the Green Room at Radio City Music Hall was a bit longer than expected.
He stressed all along that he didn’t care who picked him or when though, and in the end Williams still wound up completing a major turnaround by landing in the first round.
“Dan Williams back a month ago I thought would be the 12th pick where Miami was picking (before a trade),” Kiper said. “I think you’re talking about a guy who really elevated his game.”
Now he’s officially taking it to the next level.