When Lions general manager Bob Quinn sat down and started watching tape of Georgia Southern linebacker Antwione Williams, he wanted to see the senior linebacker stand out.
When players from smaller schools – Georgia Southern is part of the Sun Belt Conference – hit the radar of NFL evaluators, those assessors want the player to dominate against the lower level of competition. Then, when the competition gets stiffer, look like he belongs.
Williams (6-3, 239) is a perfect example of a player who did just that last season.
He played outside linebacker for Georgia Southern in 2015 and recorded a career-high 107 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, four sacks and four forced fumbles.
But it was Williams' performance against West Virginia, SEC powerhouse Georgia and a 10-3 Bowling Green team in the GoDaddy Bowl that proved to NFL evaluators like Quinn that Williams could play at a very high level.
Williams recorded eight tackles and a tackle for loss vs. West Virginia
He had nine tackles at Georgia and forced a fumble that was returned for a touchdown in a 24-17 overtime loss.
He recorded 10 tackles in a 58-27 win in the bowl game vs. Bowling Green.
"I felt that regardless of competition I always played really well," Williams said Tuesday. "I always stood out on the field regardless (if it was) West Virginia, Georgia or Bowling Green."
But he admitted those games vs. stiffer competition did play a part in helping him get to the NFL and Detroit.
"(Those games) made me feel like, myself, I could play with anybody," he said. "It was exciting because I performed at a high level when my team needed it most and (I) made a lot of plays."
Quinn said after drafting Williams in the fifth round earlier this month that Williams' size, speed, athleticism and instincts all jumped out to him on film.
"I'd say, we watched the film and when you watch that level of football, you really want the player to jump out, like he's dominating that level of competition," Quinn said.
"I thought he played very well at that level of competition and we really thought it would translate to our league to watch him on special teams, on defense. He's a versatile guy. He can blitz, he can cover, he can play the run, so at the end of the day we thought he was a good player to add."
The Lions took a little known linebacker named Tahir Whitehead out of Temple in the fifth round four years ago. After starting out on special teams, Whitehead developed into the team's starting SAM linebacker and enters this season as the likely starter in the middle at MIKE. Detroit could duplicate that success with Williams.
"I feel like I bring versatility," Williams said. "I can play anything that the coaches need me to play. I'm not just stuck to one position or learning just one thing.
"You need me to play MIKE this week, I can play MIKE. You need me to play SAM the next week, I can play SAM. I feel like I'm a versatile player and can play in space. I move really well ... and I can bring that boom, too."
The Lions don't view Williams as a MIKE as much as they do a SAM or a WILL. DeAndre Levy, Whitehead and Josh Bynes appear to be the top three linebackers at this point, but it's fair to say it's a pretty open competition at the SAM.
If Williams continues to show that he belongs in OTAs and training camp, he could certainly be in the mix at a position of uncertainty for the Lions.