Nick Williams was out of football in 2017 after playing sparingly his first three seasons in Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Miami after being a seventh-round pick in 2013 by the Steelers out of Samford.
Williams worked out for the Bears and Falcons in 2017, and thought he had a shot to be signed by Atlanta, but they suffered an injury at receiver and needed a pass catcher instead. Still, through three years of waiting for his opportunity, and then one year being out of football altogether, Williams never lost hope.
"I was confident," Williams told Detroitlions.com Saturday. "I was always confident in myself, the type of player that I am. Always knew that I would have success at some point because I just worked too hard and trained like a dog, long hours, and at the end of the day, I just needed the opportunity to show that on the field."
Williams got another shot in the NFL when the Bears signed him in April of 2018. He played here and there for Chicago's stout defensive front in 2018, but got his first real opportunity to play extended snaps for Chicago last year. That confidence Williams always had in himself paid off in a big way as he had a breakout season, finishing second on the team with six sacks – the first six sacks of his career.
"At the end of the day, I just needed that opportunity on the field with snaps," Williams said. "You need consecutive snaps to play at a high level and to really show teams what you can do.
"I just had that same confidence like, 'Hey, at some point, it'll work out, and you see what I did in 2019. Me and my wife talk all the time like, 'dang, 2019 was the year.' We kind of always knew that we would, at the end of the day, have success if we were just given the opportunity and given the snaps."
Williams played 531 snaps for the Bears last season, more than his previous five seasons combined. One of his sacks last season came in a game against Detroit, and Lions general manager Bob Quinn and his staff certainly took notice. Williams agreed to terms on a free-agent deal with the Lions this week.
Williams recorded 42 tackles and had nine quarterback hits to go along with those six sacks last year. Williams said Lions fans can expect a "stop-the-run-first mentality" from him. Williams joked that he and fellow new teammate defensive tackle Danny Shelton should be a handful for offenses when it comes to running on Detroit in 2020.
"The signing of Jamie Collins, you know what type of player he is, what he brings to the table," Williams said. "Then you have Trey Flowers, who can get to the quarterback. At the end of the day, (Matt Patricia) is building something special. I'm excited to play for the city of Detroit."
Williams' story is a good example for players who may not get their opportunity early on in their career. But, if they stay confident, and continue to grind, their opportunity will come eventually and when it does, make the most of it.
"You'll know when you get your opportunity," Williams said. "It'll slap you right in the face. You're either going to fold or you're going to stand up and take it. It's a great lesson to just stick with it. Everyone's NFL story isn't the same."