By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — After six rounds of taking major-college players during the 2013 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers went for a project in the seventh round.
Nick Williams, a 6-foot-4, 309-pound defensive end from Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., was selected with the 223rd overall pick. Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell, a legend during his playing days at the University of Alabama, has been tracking Williams for a couple years now. Mitchell has discussed the player’s progress with Samford coach Pat Sullivan, a former Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn.
“This guy was a heckuva basketball player coming out of high school, (but) he only played one year of football,” Mitchell said. “(Sullivan) watched him play basketball, and he signed him to go to Samford. He’s a young guy.
“He’s not going to come in here and replace anybody. He probably is not going to play. He’s a project, but you can’t get guys who are 6-4 and 220 pounds and can run. (So), I like this guy.”
Mitchell noted that Williams was a two-year starter at Samford, and he certainly didn’t dominate by any stretch during that time. However, he has a tremendous up-side and an ability to learn. And the transformation from his freshman year at Samford to now is proof.
“I came into college at about 240 pounds,” Williams said. “The heaviest I was at was about 320 pounds, but now I’m back to 310. … I was a skinny kid in high school, so I thought I should play basketball. (But) Coach Mitchell came to Birmingham and took me out, and we had a good conversation. So, I’m just proud to be a Steeler.”
Williams played in four straight seasons at Samford, after taking a redshirt year in 2008, and he had his best performance as a fifth-year senior. Williams tallied 31 tackles, including 15 solo six sacks and eight total stops behind the line with four quarterback hurries, three pass breakups and a blocked kick. He had a three-game stretch with at least one sack in each game.