“I’m way more comfortable,” Gardner said. “Last year was my first year starting, and it was rough, a lot of ups and downs, a lot of adversity. A lot of adversity I fought through, and I feel like I did a really good job of never giving up, never giving up on myself and my teammates. I feel my teammates recognized that, and my coaches recognized that, and I feel like that will help me.”
The premium sites are mostly in agreement on his size: three votes for 6-6, and ESPN is the lone dissenter at 6-5. They're also pretty close on his weight, with two votes for 255, and two votes giving 5 extra pounds at 260. That difference is too small to be relevant.
Now that we know how big this kid is, we start coming to the questions of position. If a high school junior weighs 260 pounds, there's a darn good chance he'll be near 300 by his redshirt sophomore year. It seems almost inevitable that he ends up on the offensive line, especially since that's what he'll do most of his senior year. Ohio recruiting guru Duane Long like his potential there:
A.J. Williams, Cincinnati Sycamore. Could be top five in the state after a year of playing tackle rather than tight end, something he will do this year.
Of course now that he's a Michigan commit, Long will downgrade him to "worst player ever to come out of Ohio." More from Duane:
I have to mention Cincinnati Sycamore's A.J. Williams. I know Mark Porter is grinning seeing his name come up as we don't quite know what to do with him. He plays tight end at 6-6 255 but blocks like a tackle. The thing is he is so athletic you have to want a guy like this at tight end. You have a third tackle on the field at all times without giving up a weapon in the passing game. We have no idea whether he can catch the ball though. On a 4 minute highlight reel he only catches one ball.
That's a nice segue to the the negative: he hasn't caught a lot of passes in his high school career. That's not such a big deal if he fills out and end up on the offensive line, right? Magnus said on Maize n Brew that he could be a strictly-blocking tight end as well:
While Thompson is more of a pass-catching threat, there are also offers to guys like Williams and Mark Harrell, which suggests to me that Brady Hoke wants a blocking tight end, too.
Somebody who's mostly a blocker, with the occasional threat of catching a pass (remember, Long raves about his athleticism), could be a great addition in Borges's offense. He's also a high-scoring player on the hoops court, speaking to either his size or athleticis, but more likely both.
AJ had a pretty good offer sheet, with representation from the SEC (Arkansas, Vanderbilt), ACC (Boston College, NC State), Big East (Louisville, West Virginia), and Big Ten (Illinois, Indiana), to go along with some lower-caliber squads.
Ohio State would have liked for him to be available late in the year in case they wanted to toss a last-minute offer his way, but the Michigan commitment obviously closes that door.
Given that he has an entire highlight reel that includes only one catch, it's fair to say that AJ doesn't rack up a whole lot of individual production. Therefore he falls more into the "offensive lineman, there does not have stats" category.
FAKE 40 TIME
Rivals is the only site listing a 40-yard dash time, crediting him at 4.9 seconds. Considering he's a tweener between tight end and tackle, that's downright realistic (if not a little on the pessimistic side). I'm left with no choice but to dole out a mere one FAKE out of five.
ScoutingOhio has only a preview for his highlight video:
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
As I started writing this post, I was dead set on the idea that this guy is a high school tight end who becomes an offensive lineman in college. I'm still leaning that way, but now I'm not quite as sure. He's a de facto third tackle in high school, so it wouldn't be that much of a change for him (especially if, as noted above, he simply plays on the line this year). However, he also has pretty good athleticism, and while that trait isn't "wasted" by putting him on the line, it's definitely one less weapon you have.
At the end of the day, I'm going to predict he ends up as a 6-6 (or even taller, as he's only a high school junior right now) 315 offensive lineman, capable of playing pretty much any position along the line until the coaches give him a bit of specialization. Like every offensive lineman, he will spend a year redshirting to bulk up and start learning the system.
Down the road, he'll show some flashes of brilliance in backup duty, and his career will follow a similar arc to what Patrick Omameh's has done so far [Ed-M:earning late-season playing time over established veterans as a RS freshman then blowing up All-American linebackers by Game 2 of his sophomore year? Um, yes please!]. All-Big Ten and even All-American honors are not out of the question way down the road.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
Since Williams is a tweener, it's tough to know exactly how the coaches view him, and therefore what impact he'll have on the class. If he's strictly a tight end, it may squeeze Michigan lean Ron Thompson out of the picture. If he's an offensive lineman, it gets Michigan one player closer to the projected goal of 5-6 players at that position.
Either way, he has little effect on overall numbers, and is another useful piece to a solid (but not great) beginning to the 2012 class. The biggest needs remain quarterback and defensive line.
I said this in the other thread, but I'll elaborate a little more: I want Williams to stay at TE. I'd like us to still get Thompson and play either him or Funchess at WR - whichever doesn't bulk up as much. Hell, even the one that plays TE could split out some.
I want us to still get 2-3 OTs in addition to Williams, Braden plus Diamond and one other stud OT. That way, when we want to run the ball, we run the ball. If we ever play a team with a below average run D, our o-line of 5 linemen plus Williams would be Wisconsin 2010 style dominant. Just because Williams is 260 now, doesn't mean he ever needs to be above 270, and a 6'6" (lean) 270lb TE would be nuts.
Not only that, but AJ Williams plus a solid OL haul will be very attractive to top RBs over the next couple years.