USC's Ed Orgeron knows defensive linemen, working with the likes of Warren Sapp, Cortez Kennedy, Russell Maryland, Shaun Cody and Jurrell Casey in stints as an assistant coach at Miami and with the Trojans. With that pedigree, Orgeron's declaration Tuesday that defensive end Leonard Williams "is going to be a first-round pick" carries some major weight.
"He is probably one of the best athletes we've had here on the defensive line as far as size-speed ratio. He is a highly unusual football player with the combination of speed and quickness at the size that he has," said Orgeron, now serving as USC's interim head coach, during the Pac-12 teleconference.
Williams, however, is poised to do something Orgeron has never seen, something that hasn't happened at USC in more than 40 years: lead the Trojans in tackles as a defensive lineman.
Williams has 54 tackles in eight games, with 29 stops in the past three contests. The 6-foot-5, 290-pound sophomore also has 11 tackles for loss with five sacks, both team-highs.
"He is actually getting better every game," Orgeron said.
At this pace, Williams would be the first USC player to lead the defense in tackles and tackles for loss since linebacker David Lewis in 1975.
Given that production, it didn't come as a surprise Tuesday when Williams was named one of 16 semifinalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award, presented to the top defender in college football. Williams, who will not be eligible to declare for the draft until 2015, was the only first- or second-year player to make the list.
There are numerous traits for Orgeron to praise, including Williams' awareness, ability to shed blocks, sideline-to-sideline range and willingness to accept coaching. But he said the one that really stands out is that Williams "plays hard."
Williams seemingly never takes plays off, as manifested in his ridiculous tackle total. And while disruptive plays have been his trademark -- 24.5 tackles for loss with 13 sacks in 21 career games -- Williams doesn't get frustrated when he cannot penetrate and finds other ways to contribute.
Williams will likely be one of the most heralded defenders coming into the 2014 college football season looking toward the 2015 NFL Draft. But unlike the near-hysteria with tracking South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney's work ethic and play-to-play contributions this season, there shouldn't be any such concerns with Williams.