MOBILE, Ala. — Bryce Williams never got to meet the NFL marker in his bloodline.
His second cousin, Brooks Williams, played six seasons in the NFL, including four seasons with the New Orleans Saints to open his career, but Bryce grew up in North Carolina, and Brooks lived in Florida. Their paths never crossed.
But Bryce Williams feels the weight of his second cousin’s legacy now. Williams, a massive 6-5, 260-pound tight end from East Carolina, is on his way to the NFL now with a chance to link himself to his second cousin in a way nobody else in the family has.
“It’s definitely neat to know that he played in the NFL for a handful of years,” Williams said. “It’s neat to know that I’m the next one in line to play in the NFL, carrying on the Williams name.”
Even though he never got a chance to pick his cousin’s brain, Williams has plenty in common with the late Brooks, who died in 2008 at the age of 53.
Brooks Williams was also a tight end, a 6-foot-4, 226-pounder who played at North Carolina before catching 37 passes for 455 yards and two touchdowns in six NFL seasons with the Saints, Bears and Patriots. By far, the older Williams turned in his best season with the Saints in 1980, when he caught 26 balls for 351 yards and both of his touchdowns.
Bryce has looked Brooks up before. The first thing that caught his eye were his second cousin’s measurements.
“He wasn’t big,” Williams said. “I looked to see how big he was, and he was only like 230, so I guess in the 70’s, that was pretty big.”
Beyond the obvious size differences, Williams also plays a position that has evolved since Brooks was roaming the turf at the Superdome.
Williams, one of the biggest tight ends at the Senior Bowl, looks like he could play that kind of traditional blocking role.
East Carolina had other ideas. Williams, like a lot of tight ends in the modern era, lined up all over the formation for the Pirates.
“I was in the backfield, I was on the line, and then being split out (in the slot,),” Williams said. “I like to think that I’ve shown I can handle all three, so I think that’s my best skill.”
Williams is also more comfortable as a receiver coming out of college. Back in Brooks’ day, tight ends were primarily blockers, but Williams is coming off of a season that saw him catch 58 passes for 588 yards and four touchdowns as a senior.
Even at nearly 6-6 and a massive 260 pounds, the skill he needs to prove to NFL scouts is the ability to block.
“I’m big and heavy,” Williams said. “Keeping my pads low can be a little bit tricky at times, whether it’s at the fullback or tight end position. ... “I feel like it’s something I can handle, but it’s also something I know I need to improve, just to perfect my craft. After working on it for several months, I think I’ll be able to be a great blocker.”
Williams was offered a chance to line up all over the formation at the Senior Bowl, everything from an in-line tight end to a big slot receiver to an H-back moving across the formation. After struggling with drops at times in Mobile, Williams enters the NFL scouting combine and the rest of the draft process making a better impression.
And if he finds himself in New Orleans — the Saints could use a tight end with Benjamin Watson a free agent at 35 years old and Josh Hill a restricted free agent — Williams would have a chance to form an even stronger link with the family doppelganger he never got a chance to meet.
“That would be wild,” Williams said. “Of course, my dad would love it. I know the first thing he’d say to me: ‘You know, Brooks played in New Orleans.’ It would be something to see. ... Playing in the NFL is an unbelievable accomplishment.”