Through Sept. 13, the first Sunday of the 2020 NFL season,
Sports Spectrum is highlighting one Christ-following player each day for 20 days.
Among the Baltimore Ravens’ biggest offseason goals was to strengthen their defensive line, which some considered to be their weak link in 2019.
The defense as a whole was among the stoutest in the NFL last year, as the Ravens ranked third in points allowed (17.6 per game), fourth in total yards allowed (300.6), fifth in rushing yards allowed (93.4), and sixth in passing yards allowed (207.2).
But after marching to a league-best 14-2 record, the wheels came off in the playoffs. Baltimore hosted a Tennessee team that had just taken out the defending Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots, and the Titans kept rolling. Against that stout Ravens defense, the Titans gained 217 total rushing yards, 195 of which were from running back Derrick Henry. Titans QB Ryan Tannehill threw only 14 passes, completing seven for 88 yards and two touchdowns. Combined with three Ravens turnovers, it was enough to derail Baltimore’s championship hopes.
So the Ravens set out to beef up their defensive front to prevent another Henry-like performance. And they feel confident they’ve improved the unit by trading for five-time Pro Bowler Calais Campbell and signing free agent Derek Wolfe, an eight-year veteran who’s started every game of his career.
Lining up in between them will be the only holdover from the Ravens’ 2019 D-line: Brandon Williams, who enters his eighth season with the Ravens and was a Pro Bowler in 2018. He will move back to his more natural position of nose tackle, and he expects to thrive.
“I’m back in my natural habitat,” Williams recently told the media. “I’m ready to take on double teams, go against centers again and just wreak havoc in the middle. That’s my job. I’m ready to do it.”
According to Pro Football Focus, via the Baltimore Sun, Williams ranked 91st among defensive lineman from 2017-19 when he lined up at positions besides nose tackle. But he was the fourth-best lineman and second-best run defender when he played nose tackle.
Brandon Williams at NT
Overall Grade: 90.1 (4th)
Run Defense Grade: 91.5 (2nd)
Brandon Williams at other interior DL spots
Overall Grade: 65.7 (91st)
Run Defense Grade: 71.5 (63rd)
More Brandon Williams at NT please pic.twitter.com/eyELe6rUrZ
— Gordon McGuinness (@PFF_Gordon) August 5, 2020
Williams’ ascension to elite NFL defender is impressive considering he came from a Division II college, Missouri Southern State, but even more so when considering the path he was on while in college.
As a sophomore at MSSU, Williams suffered a back injury that eventually required surgery. He could only watch as his teammates struggled to a 3-7 season. He had taken a medical redshirt and was still on the team, but often didn’t feel like it.
The following summer at his home near St. Louis, Mo., Williams’ doubts came to a head. “I just cried. I just bawled,” Williams said on the Sports Spectrum Podcast last summer. “I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
He contemplated quitting football, but eventually rejoined the team — only to find more struggles. He came to a tipping point one day at practice, when he was kicked out. But instead of pouting in the locker room, Williams defiantly turned around, rejoined his teammates on the field, stuffed the ball carrier in the backfield three consecutive plays, and proved to himself and his coaches he could still perform like the Brandon Williams they all knew.
For Williams, who grew up in the church and even sang in the choir, those struggles were God’s way of revealing His infinite power and perfect love. If God didn’t let him go at his worst, God won’t ever let him go.
“It solidified that He’s real,” Williams said, “that He loves me.”
Williams capped his time with MSSU with the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year Award in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, and he was selected by the Ravens in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
“It was just so surreal,” he said. “I couldn’t do anything but thank God, to finally reach my dreams.”
Williams is now married with three children, and he’s determined to lead his family with a Biblical foundation. He only needs to look back and see how the Lord sustained him in his dark moments to know that God will be with him always.
“It’s just so amazing what God can do through your life with anything,” Williams said. “However bad you think you’re going through it, whatever you think is the worst of the worst, He can use that and make it the most beautiful thing in the world.”
Williams and the Ravens, who are expected to challenge the Chiefs for top billing in the AFC, kick off their 2020 season Sept. 13 by hosting Cleveland.
– PODCAST: Brandon Williams, Baltimore Ravens Defensive Tackle
– MAGAZINE: Ravens DT Brandon Williams is accepted and acknowledged
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