INDIANAPOLIS — With Robert Mathis on his way out after a decorated career, could the Indianapolis Colts select his potential replacement with their first-round pick in late April's NFL Draft?
That's the line of thinking from MMQB's Emily Kaplan, who has the Colts taking Alabama standout linebacker Tim Williams in the middle of the first round in her latest mock draft.
You can see Kaplan's entire first-round mock draft by clicking here, but here's what she wrote about why she believes Williams could be the man for Indianapolis this year:
"The Colts defense is in terrible shape as is, so taking a gamble on a potential franchise-changer makes sense for them. That's why I was almost tempted to peg Jabrill Peppers here; Ryan Grigson feels like the type of evaluator who would want to figure the Michigan star out. Instead, I'm going with the more prudent pick: Alabama's Tim Williams, an athletic and productive linebacker who can consistently get after the quarterback. Most importantly, he can seamlessly fill Robert Mathis' vacancy."
"Potential franchise-changer" and someone who "can seamlessly fill Robert Mathis' vacancy" are extremely high expectations to put upon a young man, but it seems as though Williams is, indeed, the real deal.
Williams is the type of player that seemingly always draws a viewer's eye when he's on the field. The last two seasons, in helping lead the Crimson Tide to back-to-back National Championship games — the first of which coming away with the title — Williams collected 18.5 sacks and 27.5 tackles for loss.
At times, he's in the offensive backfield just as often as the opposing quarterback or running back.
In fact, Ray Perkins, the coach who drafted Lawrence Taylor to the New York Giants in 1981, said Alabama's No. 56 reminds him an awful lot of the monster Hall of Famer who wore No. 56 with the Giants for 13 seasons.
"I'm not saying he's quite there yet, but Tim Williams reminds me a lot of our No. 56 in New York, Lawrence Taylor," Perkins told AL.com in December. "I think a lot of NFL teams are looking at taking Williams in the first round, … I would have to look at making him a top three pick. … Williams, right now, is an impact player that can do things Lawrence did. How he comes off the edge, affects the pass protection, getting to the quarterback, chasing him down. You couldn't run away from Lawrence because he had the speed to chase you down. Williams has that kind of speed and he plays with that kind of passion."
By losing Mathis — the franchise's greatest pass rusher — and due to the team's impending free agency situation, taking a guy like Williams might make a whole lot of sense.
In fact, depending on how the next couple months play out, the Colts could potentially be without their top 3 pass rushers from the 2016 season in Mathis, as well as Trent Cole and Erik Walden, each of whom are heading into the offseason as unrestricted free agents.
Outside linebacker Chris Carter, who played just five defensive snaps for the Colts in 2016, is also a pending unrestricted free agent.
But with all of Williams' fanfare, there are reportedly some red flags for teams to consider. In fact, Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com believes Williams could even "slip to Round 2" due to his off-the-field issues.
Many top-tier talents have had these labels thrust upon them coming into the draft, however. Some end up thriving (look at the Denver Broncos' Shane Ray); some end up struggling (like the Cowboys' Randy Gregory).
So while the jury is still out on Williams' status off the field, there's no denying his talents — and what he could potentially bring to the Colts — on the field.