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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Williams' patterns fit NFL plan

USC standout receiver is average in size and speed, but he has draft value as a terrific route runner.

April 20, 2010|SAM FARMER

There are at least 20 college receivers eligible for this week's NFL draft who are faster than Damian Williams. But few if any run better patterns than Williams, who led USC in receiving the last two seasons.

What Williams is trying to do is become another pattern breaker. He wants to avoid the route run by former Trojans Mike Williams (10th overall), Dwayne Jarrett (second round) and Keary Colbert (second round), all highly touted receivers who have done little to justify their draft position.

Trojans standout Steve Smith avoided that pitfall. Taken in the second round by the New York Giants in 2007, Smith led the NFC in receptions last season and made the Pro Bowl.

Good thing for him, Damian Williams has drawn positive comparisons to Smith. They're both terrific route runners with outstanding hands but only average size and speed.

"People always question my speed, and I ran a decent 40," said Williams, who covered the distance in 4.52 seconds, according to NFLDraftScout.com. "But in my opinion, the receiver position is not always about speed. It's about change of direction, being able to drop your hips and create separation, and of course catching the ball. That's something I think I excel at.

"Anybody who watches film will probably be able to tell you the same thing, that my yards-after-catch [numbers] are pretty good."

When and where Williams will be drafted is up for debate. He's had private workouts with Denver and Atlanta at USC (in addition to his participation in the scouting combine and campus pro day), and he's made trips to visit the Broncos, Falcons and St. Louis Rams. He'll watch the draft, which begins Thursday, from his parents' home in Arkansas.

"I'll be at home hanging with my family," he said. "The biggest thing you can do now is keep yourself off the ticker on ESPN, keep away from the negative. You just sit and wait, pray and hope everything works out."

Mike Mayock, draft expert for the NFL Network, says Williams has a way to go to prove he can make a smooth transition to the pros, even though Mayock praised his hands and route running.

"I think he's going to struggle against any kind of press coverage," Mayock said, referring to a defensive back getting up in a receiver's face at the line of scrimmage. "You rarely see press [pass] coverage in college football.

"Watching a guy work open access versus contested press coverage is a completely different animal," continued Mayock, who projects Williams as a third- or fourth-round pick, even though other evaluators see him going in the second. "In college football, there's a lot of open access. You don't get to see wide receivers competing to get off the line of scrimmage."

Williams will know soon enough what teams think of him. Until then, he's trying to be careful to keep his expectations in check.

"If a team likes you, they like you," he said. "They're going to pick you when they pick you. I'm hearing all this stuff about mock drafts, and these guys aren't working for the teams, so it's hard to take it too seriously."

Some of the other local players likely to be drafted include:

* USC safety Taylor Mays: Although Mays is a physical specimen who was one of the fastest players at the combine, teams have doubts about him as a playmaker. He had just one interception last season (and one more in the Senior Bowl). He's projected by many draft mavens as a first-round pick, however, and could go to Dallas at 27.

* USC defensive end Everson Griffen: Griffen performed well at his pro day and Mayock projects the 6-4, 273-pounder as a late first- or early second-round pick, somewhere from 28 to 40. Griffen had eight sacks as a junior last season to finish his career with 18.

* USC offensive tackle Charles Brown: Mayock sees Brown as the fifth- or sixth-best tackle in this class, and there's expected to be a first-round run on the position. It's entirely possible Brown could go in the first round, maybe even to Seattle, where he would be reunited with former coach Pete Carroll.

* UCLA defensive tackle Brian Price: The Pacific 10 Conference defensive player of the year, Price fits into either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme, and many evaluators project him as a first-rounder. The way Mayock sees it, he's solid but not spectacular and would be a safe second-round selection.

* USC tailback Joe McKnight: Despite some injury issues, McKnight is a good change-of-speed back who probably will be selected in the third or fourth round.

* USC cornerback Kevin Thomas: Another Trojans stalwart who could go around the third round, Thomas is regarded as good in press coverage and a reliable tackler.

* UCLA cornerback Alterraun Verner: Mayock really likes Verner, whom he sees as a fourth-rounder. "He's a feisty, quicker-than-fast corner who tackles and has good instincts," he said.

* USC tight end Anthony McCoy: The fourth-ranked tight end by NFLDraftScout.com, McCoy is projected as a third-rounder. According to FoxSports.com, he tested positive for marijuana at the combine, something that could damage his stock.

* USC running back Stafon Johnson: Johnson made a remarkable comeback from a near-fatal weightlifting accident. He's projected as a late-round pick, someone who, Mayock says, "does nothing great but everything well."

* USC center Jeff Byers: A possible late-round pick, Byers is helped by the fact he's capable of playing center or either guard spot. Versatility pays.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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