Our countdown of the top 25 players on the 2013 Notre Dame football roster continues today with a player who is either on the verge of a breakout season, or on the verge of getting passed on the depth chart – one time 5-star recruit and current junior outside linebacker Ishaq Williams.
The story of how Ishaq Williams came to Notre Dame has already become legendary. Set to visit Penn State on the last weekend possible before having to enroll early, Bob Diaco camped outside the Williams residence in Brooklyn, New York and convinced the family to allow him to visit with them before they set course for Happy Valley. By the time Diaco left Brooklyn, the Williams family’s course changed to South Bend and the 5-star recruit was on his way to enroll early at Notre Dame.
Part of a trio of superstar defensive recruits in Brian Kelly’s first full recruiting class along with Stephon Tuitt and the since transferred Aaron Lynch, expectations were sky high for Williams in 2011 with many feeling that despite playing against lower tier opposing talent in the prep ranks, Williams could potentially start for the Irish by the end of his freshman season.
That didn’t happen in 2011.
It didn’t happen again in 2012 during a sophomore campaign that showed signs of life, but lacked consistency. In fact, Williams’ 2012 season is best remembered for him being in proximity to big plays but just missing them. Those glimpses of playmaking potential, however, have Notre Dame fans excited about his potential even if there are some doubts lingering after two pedestrian seasons to start his collegiate career.
Why Ishaq Williams could be ranked higher
Physically speaking, Williams is a freak. Tall, lean, fast, big outside linebackers like Williams just don’t exist in great quantity. His frame is precisely why many were so excited about his potential in the Notre Dame defense – he has the prototypical build of an outside linebacker in the version of a 3-4 defense that Notre Dame employs.
Talent has never been an issue for Williams though. Consistency and playing with a high motor, however, has. In high school Williams was bigger, stronger, and faster than anyone he stepped on the field against so the game came pretty easy to him in high school. Once he got to college that was not the case and he has struggled to play with the intensity level needed at the collegiate level.
If the proverbial light switch turns on for Williams this season, he has the potential to greatly aid a pass rush that is already among the best in the country thanks to the stalwarts up front on the defensive line opening things up for the rest of the Irish defense. Williams showed signs of the switch turning on late in the year against USC and was one of the few bright spots defensively against Alabama.
Williams followed up the strong close to his sophomore season with a solid spring and has many feeling that a breakout season is possible after cross training at CAT and defensive end where he will play some snaps on passing downs.
Why Ishaq Williams could be ranked lower
While Williams has shown signs of being on the verge of becoming a consistent playmaker for the Irish, the switch might not ever fully turn on. It has happened before with highly rated defensive recruits for Notre Dame in the past. Carlos Pierre-Antonie immediately comes to mind. Recruited by just about every elite program in the country, “CPA” as he was referred to by fans, never found his niche for Notre Dame at a time when the Irish were desperate for playmakers on the defensive side of the ball.
Williams also has Prince Shembo standing in his way for playing time. Shembo would appear to have a stranglehold on the starting CAT position with a huge senior season expected out of him. Shembo is going to be turned loose on opposing quarterbacks after playing with his hand on the ground more often than not a year ago. Shembo’s coverage skills are not as strong as Williams’s though so there will be some playing available for Williams to be had when he isn’t moonlighting as a defensive end.
What would a successful 2013 season be for Ishaq Williams
With Shembo having the starting CAT position on lockdown, Williams is going to have to become one of the most versatile players on the Irish defense to put some solid numbers. By playing as a defensive end on passing down, Williams will have a chance to rush the passer and collect the first sack of his career – something that has eluded him over his first two seasons.
A year ago Williams posted 22 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss. With an increased role in 2013, a successful season would see Williams at least double his tackle for loss tackle will taking down opposing quarterbacks behind the line of scrimmage at least three times. That would give Williams 7.0 tackles for loss and 3 sacks – numbers that would have placed him 5th and 4th respectively on the Notre Dame defense last year.
Anything more than that and Williams will make himself one of the more under rated players on our poll when we look back at the end of the season.
The rest of our countdown so far: