From now until the 2021 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#26 Avery Williams/ CB / Boise St. – 5’8 3/8”, 187lb
-Has the speed (4.43 40) and explosiveness (33.5” vert) desired for the corner position
-Possesses good short-area quickness and change of direction ability (4.00 20-yd. shuttle)
-Willing and capable tackler that will come downhill against the run
-Good wrap-up tackler that gives everything he’s got when trying to take ball carriers to the ground
-Has a motor both pursuing the ball on defense and on special teams
-Has great vision in the return game and possesses a thick build for his size, allowing him to break tackles and stay upright after initial contact and on arm tackles
-Fantastic return man on special teams with multiple housed kicks and punts to his name
-Excels on kick coverage units with the speed and effort to close quickly on the football
-Has blocked several kicks and punts during his time with the Broncos
-Went through running back and receiver drills at his Pro Day, suggesting he could make a position change in the league to the offensive side of the ball
-Lacks ideal height and size for the boundary role at the next level
-Has short arms (28 6/8”) that can make it difficult to defend passes and reach out for tackles
-Isn’t overly twitchy, breaking on passes and being able to click-and-close in coverage
-Will struggle with size and getting off of blocks on the outside
-Gives up inside leverage on in-breaking routes too easy, and can be a little slow to trigger
-Takes short, choppy steps in pass coverage rather than committing to a backpedal
-Can struggle giving too much cushion in off-man coverage
-Will get turned around in coverage by quick breaks by a receiver
-May be pigeon-holed into a returner-only role if he can’t contribute in the slot
-Redshirt Senior prospect from Pasadena, CA
-Contributed as a runner, receiver, and a defensive back in high school
-Walk-on at Boise St.
-Redshirted his first season on campus in 2016
-Appeared in all 14 games, starting 10 as a freshman, and made 45 tackles (36 solo), with two interceptions and eight pass breakups while also leading the Mountain West in punt return average (11.2 avg.) with two scores, along with 371 kick return yards on 15 attempts
-Played in 13 games as a sophomore, recording 49 total stops (33 solo), one TFL, two INTs (one returned for a TD), nine PBUs, three forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery, with 126 punt return and 78 kick return yards on two attempts, one going for a score
-Appeared in 14 games as a junior, notching 39 total tackles (27 solo), 1.5 TFLs, four PBUs, one forced fumble, 290 punt return yards on 22 attempts with two TDs, and two kick returns for 60 yards
-Played in seven games as a senior, racking up 19 total stops (15 solo), two TFLs, one PBU, one forced fumble, 15 punt returns for 229 yards (15.3 avg.) and two scores along with 19 kick returns for 533 yards (28.1 avg.) and another two TDs
-Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Year (2019) All-Mountain West First Team (2019) All-Mountain West Second Team (2017) 2x Academic All-Mountain West (Fall 2017, 2018), 2020 Team Captain
When analyzing Avery Williams’ tape and researching his stats, one word pops up over and over: Versatility. He contributed as a key defensive player in the Broncos’ defense over the past several years, but his best play has been by far on special teams. Whether it be as a returner or coverage man, Williams has made his impact felt on this phase of the game. He was an all-state performer as a receiver and running back in high school, and his ability with the ball in his hands shows up when he is returning the football. Over the past four seasons at Boise St, Williams has nine total return TDs. Here is an example of his kick return ability against Hawaii, where he shows great vision, burst in the open field, and the ability to make a man miss in space as he takes it to the house.
Another example of Williams is on this kick return against Air Force, where he follows his blocks to start the return and breaks through the arm tackle, keeping his balance and accelerating once he hits daylight as he works to the sideline and picks up the key block to spring him for the long TD return.
Williams is even more impressive as a punt returner, having six touchdowns to his name during his Broncos career. On this return vs Troy, Williams shows his ability to quickly react to the punt coverage unit coming at him, breaking out of one diving tackle and stiff arming another would-be tackler with good strength to hit the jets up the sideline for the score.
Not only is Williams fantastic at returning punts and kicks, but he also is a great gunner on special teams units covering punts and kicks as well. Specifically, he is phenomenal on field goal block units, having recorded several blocked kicks during his tenure. Watch on this play where Williams times up the snap perfectly, firing off the ball and getting around the edge, laying out for the blocked kick that his teammate ultimately recovers.
This year against Colorado St., Williams was responsible for three TDs scored on special teams alone. When it was reported that ST Coordinator Danny Smith made the flight to go see Williams at his Pro Day, he must have had this game running through his mind the night before. Below are two punts he specifically blocked, the latter or which he picked up himself, and both resulted in scores for the Blue and Orange.
As far as defense goes, Williams is a feisty competitor that plays the corner position just as physical as he does on special teams. He is a willing and capable tackler despite his size and will come off and hit ball carriers, playing with great effort and intensity to take them to the ground. Here against Colorado St., Williams recognizes the outside run and works off of the block against the TE to keep the outside contain and bring down the ball carrier for no gain.
While a physical defender who has gotten his hands on several balls during his time in Boise, he shouldn’t be considered a natural fit for the outside cornerback position he was asked to play for the Broncos. His short frame and lack of arm length can be problematic when trying to get off of blocks on the outside, get tackles outside of his framework, and also defending larger receivers by getting his hands in passing lanes. Here is an example against Washington where Williams is in good position against the receiver, but he is unable to defend the jump ball to the back shoulder of the receiver, lacking the height and reach to bat the pass away, giving up the completion.
Despite having pretty good change of direction ability and lateral quickness, Williams needs to do a better job of breaking on the ball in coverage to contest passes. He seems like he needs to see it rather than having a natural feel for it. Here in the same game, Williams is slow to recognize the inside breaking route by the receiver, giving the WR inside leverage and separation, and he completely whiffs on the tackle attempt, lacking the arm length to corral him before he splits the defense for the touchdown.
Overall, Williams is a good football player that lacks a defined position for the next level. He will make his bread and butter as a team’s kick and punt returner and special teams ace on coverage and field goal block units. The question pertains to whether he can be a successful nickel cornerback at the next level, as he doesn’t possess the traits and measurables to survive on the outside. As Alex Kozora highlighted earlier, the Steelers were in attendance for Williams’ Pro Day, where he also took reps as a slot receiver and running back for scouts. Should he prove he can contribute as a team’s nickel or dime corner at the next level, he could prove useful given the loss of Mike Hilton. A pro comparison of Marcus Sherels could fit this role as a defensive back and special teams ace for Williams.
However, given his natural feel for the ball in his hands as a returner and his vision, explosiveness moving forward rather than in a backpedal, and contact balance as a runner, a move to the offensive side of the ball could be a wise move for Williams to really stick on a roster. Another player that made the transition from defense as a collegian to offense in the pros is another dynamic special teams weapon: Jamal Agnew of the Jaguars, who just inked a big deal in free agency. I personally love this comp, as I can see Williams contribute heavily on special teams while being mixed in as a true gadget player that would fit right into Matt Canada’s offense. Given Danny Smith’s need to make it to Williams’s Pro Day and the impact he could have in this new offensive system or as potential depth as an inside slot defender, I would be shocked if he isn’t squarely in the sights of the Steelers come Day 3 of the draft, as a player that contribute to the team in a variety of ways.
Projection: Mid-to-Late Day 3
Games Watched: at Air Force (2020), vs Colorado St. (2020), vs Washington (2019), at Colorado St (2019)