Cincinnati Bengals left tackle Jonah Williams, the 11th overall pick the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft is facing a huge 2021 season. He was their pick in hopes of filling the void of fan-favorite stalwart Andrew Whitworth. Since the departure of Whitworth, the Bengals left tackle position has been a revolving door. An expensive one, at that. After a torn labrum cut Williams’ rookie season short before it began, all eyes were on his 2020 season. Unfortunately for Williams, the injury bug would strike again. A Week 13 knee injury lead to yet another season ending with the Alabama product on injured reserve. It is important for the third-year tackle to stay on the field this year. More importantly, he needs to prove he can be the Bengals left tackle of the future.
The Time Is Now for Left Tackle Jonah Williams
You can’t fault the man for the injury issues. However, when it comes to the future of the team, it can’t be ignored. At the conclusion of the 2021 season, Duke Tobin and company are going to have a decision on their hands. After a first-round pick’s third season, the team must decide whether or not to pick up a player’s fifth-year option on their rookie contract.
We recently saw the Bengals pass on the fifth-year option on on offensive lineman Billy Price. Given the inconsistency we’ve seen from Price, it makes sense to not take on a cap hit of over $10,000,000. Could Williams face the same fate?
It is no secret that the offensive line was not the strongest point of this team last year. With Joe Burrow coming off of a major injury, the pressure on the unit has only grown. The Bengals aren’t in a position to keep expensive lineman in the building with hopes of fixing them up.
By the Numbers
Zac Taylor has doubled down on Jonah Williams as the starting left tackle for the 2021 season. As a result, the eyes of the fans have become locked on number 73. Williams posted a 70.1 overall grade in the widely-used Pro Football Focus for the 2020 season. In doing that, he was the only offensive lineman on the roster to record a pass blocking grade over 70. Williams earned the top mark in that department, coming in at at 75.8.
Depending on who you talk to, that is either a cause for optimism, or a cause for concern. First, one could argue that being the best pass blocker on the 2020 Bengals offensive line isn’t necessarily a compliment. Given how the rest of the lineman graded out, it is sort of like being the winner of a loser’s bracket. Second, one could find a good deal of comfortability in the numbers, given the fact that Williams played his first snaps in the NFL in a season with a COVID-19 off-season taking the preseason off the table. Your first taste of NFL action coming in a game that truly matters is a tall task.
Does Jonah Williams Pass the Eye Test?
On the other side of the analytics world, comes the eye test. We can always find a chart or a graph to spin a player in a positive light, but how does he look playing the position?
The Week 2 block that saved Burrow from a big hit against Cleveland shows a lot of promise. Williams can be seen engaging the defensive end, while keeping his eyes moving around the field, allowing him to see the defensive back coming on a clean rush. Williams shows the awareness and athleticism there by quickly disengaging and knocking the rusher off his track just enough for Burrow to not take a big shot from behind. Watching that play, you see some of what Taylor may see when he looks at him.
On the other hand, you can find several clips of Williams looking stiff, slow and sometimes plain lost coming out of his stance. Other times, it seems he flew out of his stance too quickly, causing him to totally miss his assignment. Run blocking was an issue for him for the entirety of the 2020 campaign, both by the numbers and in terms of the eye test. The eye test, effectively is in the eye of the beholder and you’ll find varying opinions on how Williams fared this past season.
The Message for 2021: Prove It
Moving on to 2021, Jonah Williams will be tasked with not only staying on the field, but proving to the organization that he is the man for the job protecting Burrow’s blindside for the next decade. For personal reasons, doing so may be the difference between a big second contract or the “bust” label, joining the likes of Price and speedster John Ross.
“The time is now” may sound obvious in a league where everything changes now, but at a position as important as left tackle, it is simply a fact.
Make no mistake, the Bengals must come to that conclusion by the end of this season. The reconstructed left knee of the future in The Jungle depends on it.
The 2021 schedule will not be an easy one, so he will look to make his mark against some of the best pass rushers in the game. As a result, he may earn himself a big pay day. Conversely, he may play his way into an uncertain future in the NFL.
The addition of Jackson Carman in this year’s draft could ratchet the pressure up even more. Though Carman will be starting at guard, if Williams doesn’t impress, they may just make the move to place Carman outside earlier than you think. After all, he did it for Trevor Lawrence.
Here, you can see the pulse of the fans on whether or not they believe he is the man for the long haul, but at the end of the day, it is all about what Williams proves to his coaches and front office.
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