was consistent inside and outside the 49ers' locker room:
“Everything,” said defensive end Nick Bosa, Williams' practice sparring partner and the likely NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Those practice battles with Bosa are a great place to start if you want proof of how exceptional Williams is. Even showdowns with the NFL's best pass rusher aren't fair fights. Yes, Bosa can beat Williams one-on-one —
I've seen it — but I can't recall anyone else beating him in practice.
Jordan Reed was Williams' teammate in Washington from 2013-18, and again for the 2020 season with the Niners. During Reed's season in Santa Clara, he told his teammates he had never seen Williams lose a one-onone battle while in Washington.
The dominance hee exhibits in practices carries over to games.
“If you have any chance of beating him, you have to keep coming at him and hope he takes a play off or makes a mistake,” Niners defensive end Jordan Willis told me. “It's definitely frustrating. You just know that he's the best player… I guess you gotta wait until he gets older. Doesn't seem to be happening, though. Maybe in a couple of years. Maybe.”
Over the last two seasons with the 49ers, Williams has played 1,805 snaps. In that time, he has allowed two sacks (0.001 percent of snaps) and been penalized for holding seven times (0.3 percent).
It shouldn't be this way. The defensive lineman has all the advantages in a one-on-one matchup with an offensive lineman on a passing play. The defensive lineman is running forward and can see the ball. So long as he doesn't put his hands in the offensive lineman's face, he can do just about anything he
wants to get to the man with the ball.
The offensive lineman, on the other hand, has to slide back to stop the oncoming pass rusher. He can't see the ball, nor can he hold onto his opponent.
But Williams makes eliminating the opposing team's top pass rusher so routine, so easy — he envelops them — that it undercuts the complexity and difficulty of the position itself. He's able to do this because he is absurdly athletic, he's technically brilliant, and he's an exceptional student of the game. Combine those elements and you have the only offensive lineman in the history of the Madden NFL video game to receive a 99 of 99 rating.
“He's the most talented [tackle] I've ever seen,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who coached Williams for three years in Washington before these three in the Bay.
Niners offensive line coach Chris Foerster also coached Williams at both stops and has coached some of the greatest linemen in NFL history, such as Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden. Before the 2010 draft — Williams went to Washington from the University of Oklahoma with the fourth overall pick — Foerster recalls being asked who would compare to Williams.
“Nobody,” he replied.
“I'd never seen a guy that big [have that] combination of strength, power, quickness, explosiveness,” Foerster says now. “Then
the thing about him — which I didn't know — was his wealth of knowledge. He's such a good football mind.”
Let's start with Williams' athleticism. Williams isn't just fast for a lineman — he's fast for anyone on the football field. No, he's fast on any field.
Williams was once clocked running 19.9 miles per hour in a game. For reference, Thairo Estrada, the San Francisco Giants' fastest player last season, had a sprint speed of 19.29 miles per hour. And Estrada isn't carrying 320 pounds.
Williams' combination of size and speed is a unique weapon, one that Shanahan has utilized in both Washington and San Francisco. While most offensive tackles play in a straight line — moving either forward to run block or backward to pass block — Shanahan will have Williams move laterally across the field on running plays, seeking unique blocking matchups and rushing lanes.
It's hard for an offensive lineman to go viral, but on plays where Shanahan's call pulls Williams towards the sideline as the lead blocker on an outside run, he has delivered some bone-rattling, open-field blocks that have become internet sensations.
“Just a freak athlete,” said Fred Warner, the
49ers linebacker, arguably the best in the league at his position. “He has the feet of a ballerina, but then
the upper body strength of, like, a gorilla. He's just able to do it all. The savvy of the moves he does… He's for sure the best. Easily.”
But all that athleticism doesn't amount to much if you don't know how to use it.
“Trent Williams is a great athlete, but if he's going up against, say, [Dallas Cowboys defensive end] Micah Parsons, you need the technique as well,”
NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell said.
Williams did go against Parsons — the only peer of Bosa as a pass-rusher this season — last Sunday. Williams shut down Parsons. It, too, wasn't a fair fight.
Williams is looking for the rusher's main move and counter move when he watches the film. He's then choreographing his dance moves — hands and feet — to neutralize those moves.
“He enjoys watching it,” Shanahan said of Williams' film studies. “He understands what we're trying to do, not just his assignment, but the big picture of it.”
For the 49ers, it's a critical combination. It ensures a clear path in the run game and provides unmatched safety for a rookie quarterback's blind side. How valuable is that?
It's certainly more valuable than the two draft picks — third round and fifth round — it cost the 49ers to acquire Williams in a 2020 trade with Washington. (The 49ers pounced on the bargain opportunity after Williams had declared he would never play for Washington again due to its handling of a head injury he'd suffered.)
The six-year, $138-million contract Williams signed in 2021 might even qualify as a bargain.
He is a massive reason why the Niners are in the NFC Championship Game for a second straight season, despite all the team's injuries, turmoil, and mid-season changes.
Williams has been the 49ers' offense's rock.
So, how good is he?
See for yourself Sunday. Just watch No. 71 for a few plays.