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2017 NFL Draft: Dolphins do homework on Tim Williams’ off-field issues

The best way for Tim Williams to distance himself from all the off-field trouble that’s held him back as an NFL prospect is to be fully willing to discuss it.

There’s no hiding for Williams, who was an exceptional outside linebacker at Alabama, and he knows it. The teams interviewing him are well aware of his drug problems, as well as his arrest last year for carrying a gun without a permit. Before they commit a second-round pick to him, coaches and executives want to be sure his career won’t be derailed by more misconduct.

“I’m going in and being completely honest,” he said. “You can’t go in there and be dishonest, because the first impression is the last impression. That’s what I’ve been doing a great job of: being honest with every team. So far, they’ve respected me for that… They know what I can do on the field.”

Williams believes his answers are going over well with NFL personnel who are looking for reasons to take him. Potential production usually outweighs almost anything teams consider about draft prospects, and Williams’ contrition only helps.

“I’m a young player; I made decisions that I grew from,” he said after admitting to failing multiple drug tests. “It’s all about being a man, owning up to your situations, owning up to your mistakes.

“I’m not here laughing around, joking. I’m obviously behind the 8-ball so I’m here to prove not only to myself but to every organization that if they take me, they’re going to get the best player here.”

That “best player here” talk is more than just self-confidence. Many believe Williams would be a first-round pick in next month’s NFL Draft if not for character concerns, and he’ll likely slip well into the second.

The Dolphins are among the teams vetting him—they interviewed him formally at the Combine two weeks ago—and they need to extract significant linebacker help out of this year’s draft class. There’s little doubt that they’ll take one with at least one of their first two picks, Nos. 22 and 54 overall.

Williams’ specialty is rushing the passer, so Miami could shift him to defensive end, but he’s got high capacity to grow into an every-down linebacker. He is 6-foot-3, 244 pounds and put up very good numbers in the Combine drills. Those raw physical abilities are why ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. thought Williams could be a top-five pick a year ago.

“He’s like Khalil Mack was, that kind of player,” Kiper said, referencing Oakland’s two-time all-pro defensive end.

The Dolphins signed veteran middle linebacker Lawrence Timmons last week and are bringing back Kiko Alonso, who likely will move outside, but have question marks beyond those two. The only other linebackers under contract are Mike Hull and Neville Hewitt, who have a total of eight career starts between them.

Jelani Jenkins, one of last year’s starters, and backup Spencer Paysinger remain unrestricted free agents, and late-season pickup Trevor Reilly is a restricted free agent.

Williams was an overwhelming force the past two seasons at Alabama, and surprisingly returned for his senior year. Over the past two years, he totaled 27.5 tackles for loss, including 18.5 sacks, and is determined to have that kind of impact in the NFL.

“Coming from a winning program, it’s ingrained in me to do what I need to do for the organization,” he said. “If they need me on kickoff, I’ll run down there and hit somebody on kickoff. If they need me to be on punt team and be on special teams, I’m going to do that. I’m not going to pout over reps. I know that I have to gain the trust of locker room and those vets in there.

“I still have to prove myself when I get to the next level because nothing’s going to be given to me. There’s a guy there that’s a five-year vet with a wife and kids that’s not going to look at a rookie coming in to take his spot. I have to go earn it.”

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