With the 42nd pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the New Orleans Saints selected safety Marcus Williams from Utah. The pick came as a bit of a surprise to many fans as the fanbase was hoping the team would address edge rusher. It appears as if the Saints went with the “best player available” approach rather than reaching for a need.
Before Saints fans get up in arms about the selection of a safety, they must remember that the Saints had three safeties with over 700 snaps played last year (Jairus Byrd, Vonn Bell, Kenny Vaccaro). This was a result of the three-safety set the Saints utilized. Jairus Byrd was cut by the team after underperforming his contract. With the absence of Byrd, the Saints needed to find someone who could be a ballhawk in the deep portion of the field.
Williams’ tape shows an impressive athlete and player; his combine numbers and season statistics reinforce those observations. He intercepted ten balls over the last two seasons. Additionally, he had eight pass breakups and 129 tackles over the course of his sophomore and junior seasons. At the combine, Williams ran a decent 40-yard dash time (4.56 seconds), but he had the second best vertical jump among safeties (43.5 inches). He finished the combine ranking in the 93rd-percentile in SPARQ results (athleticism).
The fit with the Saints couldn’t be more clear. Marcus Williams has the ability to be a team’s center fielder. He excelled in single-high coverage at Utah. The skill sets of safeties Vonn Bell and Kenny Vaccaro allowed them to have greater success when working near the line of scrimmage and in the slot. With the scheme the Saints run, it is likely that the team will allow Williams to roam the deep part of the field. His film shows someone with incredible range and ball skills. The tremendous range and ability to go up and come down the with the ball make him an ideal free safety. There is little doubt that the Saints defense needs to improve and create more turnovers; Williams should be able to elevate the defense through his playmaking ability.
For the most part, Williams is a solid tackler, but there are also times when a running back will carry him for a few yards. Some added muscle would allow him to be more of a punisher. His film also shows someone who takes the occasional bad angle when looking to make a tackle. These weaknesses will prevent him from playing at strong safety, but that shouldn’t be much of a problem as the Saints will play him at free safety.
It’s possible that the Saints will slowly integrate Williams into the lineup (much like they did last year with safety Vonn Bell). If Williams follows the same course as Bell, he will be starting and playing nearly every snap by Week 4.