The 2011 NFL Draft begins in just 8 days. Anyone who read my position-by-position analysis of the Steelers knows that I think that cornerback is the Steelers’ biggest need.
When I read mock drafts and various websites, there are two primary names that I keep hearing in connection with the Steelers. One is Maurkice Pouncey’s twin brother Mike Pouncey, and the other is Texas cornerback Aaron Williams.
I’ll talk about Pouncey in my next article, but today I want to discuss Aaron Williams.
Quite a few mock drafts have Williams coming to the Steelers in the first round. Moreover, Steelers fans on the various message boards seem to think that he’d be a great fit for the Black & Gold. All I have to say about that is………”Huh???!!!”
Has anyone actually seen Aaron Williams play? I have. The kid gets burned more frequently than microwave popcorn. I actually liked him when I watched him play in 2009. But in 2010, he regressed terribly, and at times he didn’t even look like an NFL cornerback prospect.
Two things happened in 2010 that I believed affected Williams. Firstly, he moved from the slot to the outside. Secondly, he no longer had 2009 1st round draft pick Earl Thomas backing him up.
The fact that Williams looked far more vulnerable when he didn’t have Thomas behind him seemed eerily reminiscent of how the Steelers’ cornerbacks look any time Troy Polamalu isn’t in the lineup.
Williams’ move to the outside also seemed to cause him problems. Frankly, I don’t think Williams ever looked comfortable on the outside. Unfortunately, you can’t waste a first round pick on a nickelback. To be worthy of an early draft position, Williams has to be comfortable on the outside covering one of the opponent’s top 2 receivers. And I don’t think he can do that. At least not yet.
I recognize that many scouts think that Williams is one of the best cornerbacks in this year’s draft, but I don’t agree with that assessment. In fact, he’s not among my top 5 cornerbacks in this year’s draft. I actually think that Williams is ultimately going to end up playing safety in the NFL. But of course, we’ll have to wait to see if that prediction comes true. (For what it’s worth, I said the same thing about Steelers’ cornerback Keenan Lewis. To date, the Steelers have not moved him to safety).
There’s no doubt that Williams has great physical traits. That’s why I think so many people are so high on him. He’s a tall (6’0″) cornerback with great athletic ability. He has a 37.5 inch vertical leap, and I’m sure scouts salivate when they envision him covering some of the tall wide receivers in the NFL today.
But physical characteristics and athletic ability are not all that it takes to be a great cornerback. It also takes ball skills, and Aaron Williams doesn’t have those. Do you know how many interceptions Williams had in 2010? None. That’s right, NONE. Not one. Zero. Zilch (He’d fit right in with the current Steelers cornerbacks). In fact, he only had 4 interceptions in his 3 year college career. And it wasn’t because quarterbacks were afraid to throw in his direction. They threw at him frequently.
Go back and watch some of his games. If you watch his game against Oklahoma State, you’ll swear that he must have been covering Randy Moss. He got burned deep repeatedly. In fact, throughout 2010, Williams got beat far too often by receivers who will never make it to the NFL. That makes me nervous. I’d be much more comfortable if he only got beat badly by receivers like A.J. Green and Julio Jones.
If you watch Williams’ technique, you’ll notice that he has a (bad) habit of peaking into the backfield. When he does, he often loses his man. If college quarterbacks recognized that and took advantage of it, what do you think Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, or Drew Brees will do to the kid?
Not only does Williams lose track of his man when he tries to spy the quarterback, but he’s also extremely susceptible to double moves. And unlike players like Hall-of-Famers Rod Woodson and Deion Sanders, Williams hasn’t shown that he has the closing burst to recover when his man gets separation.
The Steelers sent all of their coaches to Texas to watch Williams at his Pro Day. Then they brought him to Pittsburgh for another visit at their South Side facility today. So obviously, they have interest in him. But hopefully, they’ll watch some of the games that I saw him play in. Because the guy that I watched play is not a guy who is going to significantly upgrade the Steelers’ porous defensive backfield.
If they do select him, Carnell Lake is going to have to spend a lot of time with him. He relies too much on athletic ability, and doesn’t seem to have mastered proper technique. Against the average college receiver, superior athletic ability is all you need. Against NFL receivers, that’s just not going to cut it.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate the kid. If the Steelers were able to draft him as a 2nd round safety, or as a 3rd round cornerback, I’d be very happy with the selection. But as a 1st round cornerback, I just don’t think that his play has justified such a high selection.
But clearly many of you think that he would be a great first round pick, so let me know why you think that. I’m always open to having my mind changed.
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