Dennis Allen’s three-safety looks just got scary good. With the tenth pick in second round (42), many were almost certain that the Saints would be reaching for Zach Cunningham to fill the Linebacker need. Instead, they made what is one of my favorite picks of the draft and called on Utah Free Safety Marcus Williams. With Williams the Saints now have three safeties that can wreak havoc on the field. Kenny Vaccaro (also picture above) is known to lay some big hits, play in the box against the run, and fly all over the field. Second-year OSU (Or New Orleans Saints University) product Vonn Bell was rated highly at the end of his first year. According to PFF, Bell played over 200 snaps against the run and didn’t miss a single tackle. The only other Safety to do that was Green Bay’s Haha Clinton-Dix. Bell is also a big hitter who can make plays just about anywhere on the field.
What Williams adds to this trio is a deep defending ballhawk with great quickness and instincts. He’s often referred to as a traditional center-fielder Free Safety, racking up 10 interceptions in his last two years at Utah, but he’s a secure tackler as well. Per PFF, the second-rounder boasted the #1 run stop percentage for NCAA Safeties in 2016. Though he’s often criticized for his size and lack of lower body strength, those are easy to remedy in NFL facilities. It’s also intriguing that Williams is a former basketball player, the likes of which the Saints have always had good fortune deploying on the gridiron. Truth is, Williams is one of the more exciting prospects of our bunch. He’s crazy talented, naturally gifted, and is set to be a factor as a rookie. Let’s talk about how that might work out.
In 2014 the Saints signed former Buffalo Safety Jairus Byrd to a blockbuster contract. It was set to be one of the biggest signings for the Saints that year, but instead it turned into nothing more than a puff of smoke and buyer’s remorse. Byrd had 22 interceptions in his five years with Buffalo while only totaling three in as many years with the Saints. He also only played four games in his first year in New Orleans because of one of his nagging injuries. Needless to say, that’s not what New Orleans was hoping for when they signed him. What they were hoping for is exactly what I expect Marcus Williams to bring to our best-case scenario. Williams’s 10 picks in two seasons compares favorably to Byrd’s 22 in five. Williams has been very healthy at Utah and, in playing the traditional Free Safety role, he should remain durable. The other good news is that with Vaccaro and Bell at his side, Williams can focus on being last line of defense while one or both of them occupy the box. He played a ton of single-high looks at Utah so not letting someone hit the open field behind him is a role with which he’s familiar. For his best case, I think we will see Williams pull off something like the outstanding rookie season Jairus Byrd had in Buffalo.
Stat Line: 37 Tackles, 0 Sacks, 8 INTs, 0 TDs, and 10 PBUs
I’m going to keep at home with my worst-case scenario, but I’m going out of position. The last Saints defensive rookie I was super hype about was LB Stephone Anthony out of Clemson. Now, I’m still pretty hype about him and hope that he can rebound, but he’s the perfect example of Marcus Williams’s worst-case scenario. While Anthony had a stellar first season as the signal caller and Middle Linebacker, once the system shifted to Dennis Allen’s, Anthony lost all of that progress. He went from starting 16 games and totaling a team-leading 112 tackles to starting only three out of his 10 played and compiling a measly 16 tackles. News was that Anthony couldn’t get a hold on the system and its nuances. I believe that there’s a chance that this could happen to Williams as well, albeit unlikely. He will be coming from a two-safety system, but will be asked to play a lot of three-safety sets in a complex Dennis Allen scheme. He may also be asked, from time-to-time, to fill roles that he’s not yet comfortable with. This all comes with the territory of learning a new system.
Stat Line: 18 Tackles, 0 Sacks, 2 INTs, 0 TDs, and 5 PBUs
I’ll be honest, my expectations for this guy are through the roof. But, in the interest of having a realistic outlook, I’ll behave. Williams’s 10 interceptions over his last two seasons at Utah came over 44 targets. That’s a great ratio. We have to expect though, that with the three-safety sets, he’s not going to get all of the attention. Any smart quarterback wouldn’t give him all of the attention. But if the Saints secondary can be as dangerous as it sounds with Breaux, Lattimore, Vaccaro, Bell, and Williams we can reasonably expect Williams to be a factor without having to carry the unit like Byrd did in Buffalo. Williams was compared to Devin McCourty and Justin Simmons coming into the draft. Both of these guys have shown an affinity for getting to the ball and contesting. I expect that’s going to be the focus for Williams while Vaccaro and Bell play their hybrid linebacker roles. So while I don’t see Williams coming up with a ton of tackles, his ball skills are going to be what sets his value. Ed Reed was the most recent Free Safety to wrangle 8 INTs in a season and while I’d love to compare the two, we’re just realistically not there yet.
Stat Line: 25 Tackles, 0 Sacks, 6 INTs, 0 TDs, and 11 PBUs
Williams was already garnering attention at minicamps and we can expect to hear more about him in the coming weeks at training camp. I’m seriously stoked for this guy to get on the field and make a difference. With the additions of he and Lattimore, we can see the Saints secondary taking form into something big. For the first time in a few years, we’ve pulled together a host of DBs that can be terrifying for the opposition. The last Saints ballhawk Safety that produced outstanding numbers has now been blacklisted as far as I’m concerned. That leaves the spot open for Marcus Williams to claim in the coming years. I think he gets started quickly.
Next time: Third-round pick (67) Alvin Kamara