Defensive lineman DeShawn Williams has had an interesting path for an NFL career.
At 29 years old, the 2022 season will be just his fourth in the pros. After being drafted to the Cleveland Browns in 2016, he didn’t make a 53-man roster until 2020 with the Denver Broncos. Denver re-signed him to a new contract this past spring.
DeShawn Williams | Defensive Line | No. 99 (new number)
Weight: 291 pounds
Age: 29 years old
Experience: 4th NFL season
DeShawn Williams’ crazy road to an NFL roster
Last year after Williams officially survived cut day and started the season on the Broncos’ defensive roster, I wrote about his journey in the NFL - which by any standards was a tough one.
Having been drafted in 2016 but cut and signed and stashed on practice squads on and off for five seasons before the 2020 COVID season dictated a DL need for the Broncos by Week 3.
Denver found Williams working at Amazon after his CFL team folded and gave him a roster spot that he refused to relinquish in 2021’s Training Camp:
The last question to DeShawn Williams in his presser on Tuesday was how to pronounce his name.
A dumb question but a brilliant answer.
“Just listen to Bill Kollar. If I mess up, you’ll hear him say my name,” said the sixth-year defensive lineman making his first NFL roster to start a season. “He says my name louder than anybody.”
After joining the Broncos last season in Week 3 off the practice squad for his third stint in Denver, Williams is planning on Broncos Country not having to ask that question anymore.
“It’s DeShawn. D-e-S-h-a-w-n.”
In 2021, Williams started eight games on the defensive line, played 15. His notable stats included one sack, two passes batted down and five QB hits. Compared to his 2020 stats -which included a pick, three passes defensed, four tackles for a loss and six sacks - last season might have seemed like a slight downgrade in his performance.
But GM George Paton wanted to keep some continuity and experience along the line, so he signed Williams to a one-year deal for 2022. It will up to the former Clemson Tiger to prove he deserves an even longer-term contract for the future - in Denver or elsewhere.
How DeShawn Williams fits with the Denver Broncos
Williams will be competing with a host of young and inexperienced linemen for the heavily used backup spots as the starting three are most likely set - former 49er D.J. Jones, Mike Purcell and Dre’Mont Jones.
Waiting in the wings to contribute will be Williams along with rookie big man out of Iowa State, Eyioma Uwazurike, plus Wisconsin’s Matt Henningsen and returning backups Jonathan Kongbo, Marquiss Spencer, McTelvin Agim and Jonathan Harris, will also be looking to snag a role along the line.
Paton brought in D.J. Jones from San Francisco to really fortify the defensive line, particularly to give its run defense a huge boost. Jones could play nose instead of end, giving Williams a chance to be the third starter along the line with Purcell as solid backup to D.J.
As denverbroncos.com’s Aric DiLalla recently noted, the success of Denver’s defense in 2022 against some of the best offenses with some of the best running games is going to start with the success of this defensive line.
“For a Broncos defense that has one of the league’s best secondaries and has rebuilt its pass rush, it still all starts up front. And soon, we’ll get a sense of who will lead that charge.”
Williams being big enough and strong enough to help the run defense is key to that success along the line.
Williams has earned his spot on the team with an incredible work ethic and strong belief in himself to hang in so many years despite getting turned away during so many of them.
Now in his third season on an official 53-man roster, it is Williams’ year to prove he can be a major contributor as well as regular starter.
As Nick Kosmider of The Athletic noted, this defensive line has a lot of unproven talent besides the Joneses, and it needs to stay healthy throughout the season to avoid disaster:
“The Broncos have a good foundation in Dre’Mont Jones and new nose tackle D.J. Jones, who is backed up by the stout-when-healthy Mike Purcell. But the surrounding cast is relatively unproven, and this feels like a group that could be in some trouble if it experienced a significant injury or two.”
Luckily for Williams, he’ll have a lot of opportunities against Broncos’ 2022 opponents to offer his proof.