ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Just because the Broncos made an early splash in free agency by re-signing Kevin Vickerson and adding Terrance Knighton didn't mean that defensive tackle ceased to be a priority headed into the draft.
And even if Vickerson and Knighton are the two starting tackles -- and 2012 second-round pick Derek Wolfe sees his share of work on the inside, assuming he mimics his hybrid end/tackle role from last year -- there's going to be plenty of playing time waiting for Sylvester Williams, who becomes the first defensive tackle taken by the Broncos in the first round since Trevor Pryce in 1997.
Unlike Wolfe, Williams isn't going to swing between the inside and the outside; at 313 pounds, he's purely limited to the two inside spots, and his size is ideal for what Head Coach John Fox and Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio want from their defensive tackles.
"He's got short-area quickness, he's got good size (and) excellent body control, which you're looking for," Fox said. "He's got decent-length arms, so he's got all the physical tools that takes. Hopefully that carries over into production."
Williams has untapped growth potential. He didn't take up football until his senior year at Jefferson City (Mo.) High School, spent time working at a factory making radiator parts for diesel engines and had to walk on at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College in order to continue playing before finding his stride and eventually earning a scholarship to North Carolina.
Williams knew he had to work on his conditioning, so he was often seen in the football facility in the early-morning hours, working to round himself into shape. It was grueling, but it beat being on the factory floor.
"I worked in that factory, and it showed me what hard work is," he said. "Being able to play football as a job is a blessing."
Williams' work ethic mirrors that of Wolfe, last year's top Broncos pick. But another notable attribute for Williams relative to his availability at No. 28 was his arm length: 33 1/2 inches, about what you want for a defensive tackle.
One of the potential reasons for Sharrif Floyd's descent from a potential top-five selection to the No. 23 choice of the Vikings was his arm length, which is 1 3/4 inches shorter than that of Williams'. Another was his lack of pass-rush production; Floyd had just three sacks last year; Williams had twice as many in spite of playing on a sprained ankle.
Floyd's unexpected plummet played into the Broncos' hands. They expected the Vikings to take a defensive tackle with either the 23rd or 25th selection, knowing Minnesota's needs and penchant for building a defense from the inside out. They figured that defensive tackle would be Williams -- if he fell that far.
"We actually had (Williams) not getting past Minnesota," Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway said. "And we probably did three or four (mock drafts), and he didn't get that deep a couple of times, either. So, it really kind of fell a little bit different.
"I think when you look at it, the things when you look at this draft, with (cornerback D.J.) Hayden going as early as he did (No. 12 to Oakland), and Floyd falling to where he did, and obviously that was the pick at Minnesota, so if anything changed, it was Hayden moving up and Floyd sliding, which is what pushed Sylvester to us."
Williams wasn't the only target in the Broncos' sights as the first round progressed. By the time the Broncos' selection was three picks away, Elway saw Williams, UCLA defensive end Datone Jones and Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes still on the board.
Rhodes went to the Vikings at the 25th selection. Jones became a Packer one pick later.
"We knew we were going to get one of those; we didn't know who it was going to be," Elway said. "And then when Sylvester fell to us, like I said, we're thrilled to get him."