NEW YORK CITY - Chris Williams became the first Vanderbilt offensive lineman in more than 20 years selected in the opening round of the NFL Draft when the Chicago Bears picked the agile tackle with the 14th pick.
Williams is the second Commodore in the last three years selected in the NFL Draft first round, joining former quarterback Jay Cutler, who went to the Denver Broncos with the 11th pick of the 2006 Draft. Before Cutler's selection, no Commodore was picked in the first round since offensive tackle Will Wolford was selected by Buffalo in 1986.
Williams, who earned first team All-Southeastern Conference honors as a senior captain for the Commodores, went faster in the NFL Draft than any previous Vanderbilt offensive lineman. Wolford was the only Commodore offensive lineman previously taken in the initial round, selected as the 20th overall pick.
(Photo by Stan Jones)
Other Commodore standouts from last year, including SEC career receiving leader Earl Bennett, two-time All-SEC linebacker Jonathan Goff and defensive end/linebacker Curtis Gatewood, are expected to hear their names called in the NFL Draft, which continues through Sunday night in New York. Several others, including linebacker Marcus Buggs, defensive tackle Theo Horrocks and offensive lineman Brian Stamper, are potential draftees.
"I'm extremely pleased for Chris. It couldn't have happened to a more deserving person," Johnson said. "Chris is the total package. He's talented beyond belief, he's a tremendous teammate and he's just a great person. Chris is an outstanding representative of this university and our football program."
"I've never had one quite like Chris Williams. He's that special," said Caldwell, a coaching veteran of more than three decades. "Chris has tremendous athletic ability, but he's even more blessed with intelligence and a desire to be the best he can be. He loves every aspect of the game. Chris has just been a real pleasure to coach."
The selection of Williams culminates a remarkable Vanderbilt career for the native of Glynn, La. Undersized as a prospect coming out of Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, Williams was raw when he arrived on the Vanderbilt campus as an athletic, yet lanky, 245-pound lineman. Though an obvious talent to coaches, Williams didn't play for two full years due to academic difficulties. By the time he reached the field in 2005, Williams had added 55 pounds, maintained his agility, and was well-schooled in every line position.
As a sophomore in 2005, Williams started the last nine games at left guard, yet played left tackle protecting Cutler in critical passing situations. Williams' ability to pass protect draw the attention of keen observers during the 2005 season as Cutler directed the Commodores to fourth-quarter comeback wins at Tennessee, Arkansas and Wake Forest, and near-rallies against Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky.
As a junior, Williams blossomed after moving into the left tackle role. In 24 career starts, he allowed just two quarterback sacks while facing some of the nation's top pass rushers. By his senior season, Williams was an Outland Trophy candidate and one of the conference's elite players, earning unanimous first team all-conference honors.
Williams concluded his Commodore career with 33 consecutive starts. He is a two-time recipient of the team's Most Valuable Offensive Lineman Award. After the season, Williams drew the attention of scouts and pro administrators with impressive performances at the Senior Bowl and at the NFL Personnel Combine. He was recently named as a strength and conditioning All-American.
Recently married to the former Marissa Love, Williams completed his work toward a undergraduate degree in December.