Kevin Williams, NFL defensive tackle for the Minnesota Vikings, is the best athlete from Arkansas in pro sports today. That you've never heard of him might be a consequence of his position (a good series might involve him not letting the guy in front of him gain any ground) or his demeanor (laconic in interviews, undemonstrative on the field). Or it might have something to do with Williams' circumvention of Arkansas's version of pro sports — he opted to play college football at Oklahoma State instead of for the Razorbacks.
In person, the Fordyce native is fairly undeniable. He weighs more than 300 pounds, but at 6'5", still manages to look almost lean. His hands are as big as baseball mitts. On the field, surrounded by other freakishly large men, he isn't as obviously undeniable as, say, Darren McFadden, who's the focal point of the game every time he touches the ball. Williams rarely comes in contact with the ball. He doesn't run in space. He's amassed more sacks than any player at his position since he entered the league in 2003, but his season average is paltry compared to elite defensive ends. Still, he's unquestionably the anchor to the Vikings' defense thanks in part to his unique physical make-up: He's both huge and quick.
"What makes Kevin a great player is he's so fluid," his teammate, All-Pro offensive lineman Steve Hutchinson, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune last year. "It looks like he's going half-speed and he's actually going twice as fast as you are."
With power and agility comes the ability to disrupt. Sometimes as a human wrecking ball, busting over less fleet-footed offensive linemen. Sometimes by swatting down rifled passes thrown from just a few feet away. And sometimes by being otherwise disruptive enough to draw two offensive blockers — somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 pounds of charging man — and freeing up space for another defender to slip through the line of scrimmage.
The average football fan might be even less likely to notice Williams because, as Keith Jackson, the former NFL All-Pro from Little Rock, who's known Williams since he was 14, says, "Kevin's never been a look-at-me guy. Sometimes people forget you're there just because you're quiet. If I had a choice to tell kids the right way to do it, I'd point to Kevin. He doesn't have to show how great he is [by talking on the field], but those offensive linemen know how great he is. The players know. He's a quiet dominator."
Even though much of what makes Williams great isn't reflected in any conventional stat, he still looks impressive on paper. Over the course of his first seven seasons, he was named first-team All-Pro five times, a feat only Hutchinson and Peyton Manning also achieved during that span. During that span, the Associated Press named him first-team All-NFL five times. Even last year, when the Vikings were beset with dysfunction from every direction and neither Williams nor the Vikings defense performed as well as in the past, coaches and Williams' peers in the league thought enough of him to name him to the Pro Bowl as a replacement.
In March, when a reporter and photographer visited Williams at his house in a ranch-style development near Mayflower, he was a few weeks removed from arthroscopic knee surgery. In a Coogi polo, jeans and boat-sized Nikes, he moved slowly around his house, though seemingly less as a consequence of his knee — which he said was almost healed enough for him to run — than because, in a job that involves eight months of extreme conditioning in preparation for 16 Sundays of total exertion, you walk slowly when you get the chance.
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