Few job applicants are scrutinized more than prospects entering the NFL Draft. Even Jonah Williams, arguably the best tackle in college football in 2018 playing for juggernaut Alabama, is subject to questions about his viability in the NFL.
Williams is out to prove his play can quell his skeptics. The former Folsom High School star didn’t allow a sack in the regular season last fall and could be the first offensive lineman off the board in April’s draft.
This week, as Williams is measured, prodded and questioned by NFL teams and media members, his arm length became a talking point, leading some to believe he doesn’t have the levers to play tackle at the next level. His arms measured 33 5/8 inches, which is below the typical 34-inch threshold for outside pass protectors. Some believe NFL teams envision a switch to guard because of it.
“I think that it’s a small portion of what it takes to be a tackle at the next level,” Williams said. “I think if you look at a lot of the really successful tackles over the last 10 years — Joe Thomas, Joe Staley, Jake Matthews, Jason Peters, La’el Collins, Riley Reiff, Ryan Ramczyk, just a couple guys off the top of my head that have shorter arms than me — I don’t think that’s necessarily a huge deal. I’m proud of the way that I play, my approach to the game. It’s what makes me a great player.”
Williams doesn’t lack for confidence, which evolved during a dominant run in high school under former Folsom coach Kris Richardson. His team won a CIF State championship in 2014, Williams’ junior season, finishing 16-0 and playing games with a running clock because scores were so lopsided.
Williams confirmed he met with the Buffalo Bills and Green Bay Packers, among other teams, who might be in the market for a tackle in Round 1. Buffalo, owner of the No. 9 pick, has been a popular destination for Williams in mock drafts.
The hometown 49ers could be in the market for a starter at right guard — and will eventually have to replace Staley, the left tackle who hasn’t committed to playing beyond 2019. But it seems unlikely San Francisco would invest a first-round pick on an offensive lineman again after drafting right tackle Mike McGlinchey ninth overall in 2018.
Williams takes prides in his work ethic and preparation, which endeared him to Alabama coach Nick Saban while on the recruiting trail. He’s a self-starter, which was apparent in high school.
“I think at Folsom we had a relentless competitive attitude and desire to win, similarly to Alabama,” he said. “But at Folsom, I lost one game while I was there. We put running clocks on every single person my junior year. The reason why we did that, we had talent, but it was because we started working after school every single day, starting on the first day of school in January.
“We did it through the summer, we did it whether the coaches were there or not. We’d go out there just as an offense and run plays just against air going all the way down the field on weekends. We’d text each other if we had nothing to do. And I think that that’s kind of the attitude that, it fit me and it’s helped promote me to help get to where I’m at.”
Williams also has a sense of humor and isn’t taking the talk about his lack of ideal arm length too seriously.
“If your arms were longer, you’d be able to reach the keyboard a little bit better,” he said to a reporter. “But I think you’d be a great writer with whatever length your arms were.”