Eagles Breakout Candidate: Why Milton Williams could steak the spotlight in 2023

PHILADELPHIA, PA – JULY 30: Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Milton Williams (93) during Philadelphia Eagles training camp on July 30, 2021 at Novacare Complex in Philadelphia, PA (Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire)

While the hype is warranted for Eagles rookies Jalen Carter and Jordan Davis, there is another name to keep an eye on this summer in Philadelphia: Milton Williams.

The third-year player out of Louisiana Tech quietly doubled his sack total — from 2 in 2021 to 4 in 2022 — while serving as the top run-stopper along the Eagles’ defensive line last season. His 75.7 run defense grade was 20 points higher than the run defense grade of perennial Pro Bowler Fletcher Cox.

Williams, a hilariously controversial draft-day favorite of Howie Roseman, has all the makings of a sneaky-good breakout candidate along a rebuilt defensive line trying to fill the void left by Javon Hargrave. Nothing will be handed to the 6-foot-3, 290-pounder. He’ll have to earn increased snaps at training camp while holding off veteran newcomer Kentavius Street and 2021 draft classmate Marlon Tuipulotu, but the opportunity is there.

Here are a few reasons why Williams should not be slept on to make his presence felt:

Chip on His Shoulder

The proverbial “chip on his shoulder” phrase gets applied much too liberally in the world of professional sports these days. Any self-respecting player should have one. However, Williams should feel extra slighted after the Eagles traded up for Jalen Carter in the 2023 NFL draft. He was the next man up for a starter’s job following Javon Hargrave’s exit. And now he’ll have to compete for the spot against an uber-talented rookie who has built-in chemistry with Jordan Davis. Adding more insult: the Eagles took another defensive tackle — Moro Ojomo out of Texas — in Round 7.

Newly drafted Philadelphia Eagles’ Nolan Smith, right, and Jalen Carter speak during a news conference at the NFL football team’s training facility, Friday, April 28, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Milton Williams is a dominant run-stopper

Williams’ ability to stop the run cannot be overstated. Remember, this was a huge weakness early in the season for the Eagles’ defense in 2022. So much so that the team signed Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph off the streets to stop the bleeding. Meanwhile, Williams was minding his business and plugging holes the whole time. He ranked No. 14 among all interior defenders against the run (via Pro Football Focus); Williams also owned the fourth-best percentage of plays with a positive run grade. Impressive.

Freak Athleticism

The only real knock on Williams coming out of college was his rather diminutive stature. The Eagles didn’t seem to care about that. They threw on the tape and saw an athlete, plain and simple. Williams ran the 40-yard dash in a blistering 4.63 seconds while doing the three-cone drill in 6.96 seconds. “No defensive tackle anywhere was going to run faster than me,” Williams said, via Packer Central. (Note: RB Trey Sermon ran the 40 in 4.61 seconds). The former high school basketball player also put up 34 reps on the 225-pound bench press.

Limited Snaps, More Experience

Williams actually saw his snaps slightly decrease — down from 456 in 2021 to 395 in 2022 — but chalk that up more to Jonathan Gannon keeping him out of the regular rotation early in the year. He flashed when eventually given extra burn as evidenced by his breakout Week 14 performance: 1 sack, 2 QB hits, 3 tackles (2 for loss) on 24 snaps. He averaged 20 snaps per game over the final five weeks, recording 2 of his 4 sacks and 3 of his 6 QB hits during that stretch.

Milton Williams gets a vote of confidence from Fletcher Cox

Forget what the so-called experts are saying about Williams and his immense upside moving forward. Let’s listen to what his future Hall of Fame teammate Fletcher Cox said about him as a rookie: “He’s just a physical player and he’s got a bunch of raw talent and that’s what you want to see,” Cox said in 2021. He’s only grown and matured in two full NFL seasons. Now, Williams is looking like a future starter and Cox’s eventual successor.

PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 27: Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (91) celebrates a sack during the game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Philadelphia Eagles on September 27, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)