As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, the Buffalo Bills signed free agent Chris Williams to be the team’s left guard in 2014. Williams was a first round pick by Chicago in 2008 as a tackle, but he fell out of favor and was moved to guard before landing with St. Louis for the past season and a half. The move to guard is usually one for disappointing tackles, but has been a better fit at that position in the NFL.
As a Bill, Williams is now the tallest guard on the roster (6’6”, same listed height as Mark Asper). The Rams listed his weight at 320 pounds, which ties JJ Unga for the second-heaviest guard on the roster (Kraig Urbik was listed at 324 last season). Coach Marrone’s affinity for big offensive linemen continues.
Williams has performed better as a pass blocker after his move to guard. Throughout his career, ProFootballReference.com has tracked his pass blocking snaps and the quarterback pressures he’s allowed (the data may have some subjectivity to it because the definition of a pressure is flexible, but it’s interesting nonetheless). The graph below compares the 95% confidence interval distributions of expected pressures allowed, based on the historic data.
For comparison, the guards on Buffalo’s roster not named Kraig Urbik allowed a pressure on 7.6% of their pass blocking snaps, and their expected performance range based on the 2013 season was 5.5% to 9.7%. Williams (6.5% average and 5.0-7.8% range) is an upgrade at left guard as a pass blocker.
There isn’t much difference, however, when just comparing Legursky and Williams as pass blockers. Legursky has a slightly better average pressures allowed rate (5.7%), but has 425 fewer snaps at the position than Williams. That represents an entire season’s worth of snaps, so Legursky’s less seasoned as a guard than Williams. It’s a push between the two as pass blocking guards.
I charted Williams’ run blocking plays from his first eight games in 2013 (146 plays). While not a huge sample, it could help understand the player’s tendencies. He was used to pull left or right 24 times and led the way for the running back sixteen times. Those sixteen plays averaged 3.86 yards per play, including two losses.
But sometimes Williams misses when he gets to the second level. He has a tendency to get ahead of his base and put his head down before engaging. This play, where Williams pulls to the right and becomes Zac Stacy’s lead blocker, is a prime example.
There’s a lot of open space for Stacy if Williams can just handle the Houston defender. Stacy sees Williams miss and cuts right. Lance Kendricks (number 88) gets thrown backwards and a potentially big play is just a small gain.
Williams’ upside is still there. He was a first round draft pick for a reason and has quick enough feet to act as a pulling guard. This play, against Jacksonville, features William pulling to the inside of the formation. He’s able to come around in front of the running back and help seal off the action side of the line.
He also can pull outside and be the lone lead blocker on the edge. This run, a thirteen yard gain against the Jaguars again, featured Williams pulling outside to allow Richardson to get around the left end of the line. Williams didn’t have to plow the defender over, he just positioned himself properly and let the linebacker overrun the play.
Williams was “beaten” (my subjective category of whether he won or lost a block) 18.5% of the time in this sample set. My study was quick and crude, so the context of what’s expected out of a guard is missing. We would need more charted data and probably better categories to have a more scientific comparison.
The big guard’s opponents ended on the ground 19% of the time (28 plays). He went down with them 24 times. He’s not a plow truck, but he does a good job leveraging his size with good technique. Unfortunately, that technique is a bit inconsistent, since Williams went to the ground twenty times (14% of the time) when his opponent was able to stay on his feet.
All in all, Williams could be a very nice guard between Wood and Glenn. He did the best when starting a run block as part of a double team and then letting his partner move to the second level (10.7% beaten rate). His 13% beaten rate on one-on-one run blocks without moving to the second level also shows he can seal off a part of the line and allow his counter parts to get ahead of Fred Jackson or CJ Spiller.
The Williams signing brings experience and size to the left guard position. Williams has the same pass blocking ability as Legursky and has more speed to get in front of a running around the edges. He’s an upgrade at left guard for the Bills and will hopefully contribute to a bounce back season for CJ Spiller and another strong season for Fred Jackson.