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Thoughts on Aaron Williams

April 21, 2011 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

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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11 Comments to “Thoughts on Aaron Williams”

  1. why didnt you do wide receivers?

  2. Dawson,
    I actually thought that I had reviewed the wide receivers. In fact, I was certain that I had. But I just went back and looked at the position-by-position reviews, and you’re absolutely right. I forgot to do the wide receivers. I am soooooo embarrassed.

    Okay, change of plans. I won’t be talking about Mike Pouncey tomorrow like I had originally planned. Instead, I’ll be doing a review of the Steelers’ wide receivers. ;-)

    BTW, just to give you a preview of what’s coming, I’m not as high on Mike Pouncey as everyone else seems to be.

  3. I don’t see the Steelers grabbing him either, just because the Steelers are very good with their first pick, and because they generally use the draft to build, not to get a quick fix. The Steelers will count on Butler and Lewis developing before they grab a potential bust in the first round.

    There’s no telling what the Steelers will actually do, but I would agree that Williams is definitely not a lock.

  4. Don,

    I don’t have nearly the same knowledge of college prospects as you do, but I agree entirely on Williams. Everything I saw simply said safety/nickelback. I can’t imagine they would take him in the 1st (hopefully the interest is just a smokescreen).

    The WR snafu offer’s an opportunity to use a Blazing Saddles quote:
    “WR’s? We don’t need no stinkin WR’s.” We have Limas returning next year. What more do you need. ;)

    On Pouncey, hey, I think he would make a great guard. I just don’t think guard is a high priority (unlike T, CB, and DE).

  5. Him being moved to safety seems to be a popular opinion. That’s fine: problem is, we need a CB more than a safety.

    Also, I don’t think Mike Pouncey falls to us.

    As far as who we pick, I have no idea. I’m just gonna hope Phil Taylor falls to us. Anyone else ponder the option of the Steelers trading back for more picks?

  6. Dan-

    I agree with you on Pouncey.

    “Anyone else ponder the option of the Steelers trading back for more picks?”

    I don’t think an elite team like the Steelers need to do that. They need better players at several positions (CB is top of my list).

    When you trade down it’s to get more bodies in camp. So a team that’s rebuilding (like the Browns always are), you might do that.

  7. Jim,
    I agree with you about Pouncey. He won’t be around when the
    Steelers pick (though I’m going to write about why he SHOULD still be there if teams had any sense).

    As far as trading back to accumulate picks, I agree with you and I partially disagree with you.

    I agree that the Steelers don’t need to accumulate picks. We were in the Super Bowl last year. There aren’t many rookies who are going to beat out our vets. So most of our picks are not going to make the team. Frankly, I’d be more in favor of moving up than moving back. There are some good players earlier in the draft that could really help the team.

    But having said that, I might trade the pick and move back if certain players slip farther in the draft than I anticipate that they will. There are several good cornerbacks in the draft. If we could get two of the good corners instead of one by trading back, then I’d definitely do it. But there are a limited number of scenarios that I’d trade back for, and the stars would have to align perfectly for them to occur, so overall, I agree with your original point that trading back is not a good strategy for the Steelers.

  8. I like Aaron Williams and can understand why the Steelers do too. First off, some of your facts are wrong. Aaron played on the outside all of the 2009 season when Texas faced teams with a TE, when those teams went to Nickel he moved inside because he had the special talent needed to bump inside and play against the run and cover some of the better inside slot receivers e.g. Detron Lewis, Ryan Broyles etc. When on the outside he faced and held Julio Jones to one catch in the BCS championship and outplayed Niles Paul against Nebraska in the Big 12 championship. In 2010, Texas rotated their CB’s every other series because they knew they had three draftable CB’s but out of the three Aaron was the one teams stayed away from (he was only thrown at 21 times in his 3yr career at Texas). If you tell me that teams targeted and threw at him more than the other two Texas CB’s then you are watching the wrong film because clearly teams threw at Chykie Brown and Curtis Brown more than threw at Aaron Williams. Aaron is a young talented CB who will continue to develop his technique and most important he has no character issues which is important to the Steelers. He will be a game changer with his character, work ethic, athletic ability and ball skills. BTW, Prince Amukarmara did not have any INT’s in 2010 either and Jimmy Smith only had 1. You might want to go back do some more research on Aaron and not just base your opinion on the last few games of a dismal 2010 season for the Longhorns. Go back and rewatch the OU games when he defended Ryan Broyles for the last two years or when he played against a pass happy Texas Tech team.

  9. Jason,
    Thank you very much for your very well thought out comment. I truly appreciate it, and welcome to Steelers Today.

    I want to address several of the issues that you brought up. Firstly, I want to make sure that I say that Aaron Williams is a talented athlete who is definitely going to be playing in the NFL next year. I may have been a bit hard on him because I don’t like him as a 1st round cornerback. But I think that I made it clear that if the Steelers took him in the 2nd or 3rd rounds, then I’d see him as a nice value pick, and would be very happy with him.

    As far as my facts go, I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree. And frankly, when you’re evaluating defensive backs, it’s difficult to tell who is responsible for a reception. It may look like the cornerback was responsible, but the reality may be that the safety was supposed to pick up the receiver.

    You mentioned a couple of points that were very astute,and that I need to respond to. Firstly, I disagree with your assertion that he was only thrown at 21 times during his 3 year career. During that time, he had 15 passes that he successfully defended, and another 4 that he intercepted. That’s 19 passes. I can then show you more than a dozen passes that were successfully completed against him. So that’s over 30 passes right there. Besides, if he had only been thrown at 21 times and either intercepted or stopped 19 of them, he would be the first CB drafted this year, rather than Patrick Peterson. Even Peterson didn’t have numbers that were THAT good. ;-)

    As far as where he played, I based my assessment on where I saw him lining up most often. In 2009, he actually started all 13 games at LCB. However, he played the majority of his snaps in the slot. That’s why I said that he was primarily a nickleback in 2009.

    In 2010, he only started in 9 games (though he played in 11). Of those, he started 3 at LCB, 2 at RCB, and 4 at nickelback. But he ended up playing the majority of his snaps on the outside, even when he started at nickelback. So I attributed 2010 as an “outside” year for him.

    There is a false assumption that some fans make. Some fans assume that if a guy plays nickelback, he’s the 3rd best cornerback on the team. That’s not necessarily true. It really depends on the receivers the team is facing. If you’re playing against the NE Patriots, do you really want your 3rd best guy covering Wes Welker? So there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Williams being better in the slot. I just wish that he had looked as comfortable on the outside as he did in the slot. But admittedly, that’s just my opinion.

    You mentioned something else that I thought was very astute, and definitely worth talking about. Texas had 3 very good cornerbacks. Williams was definitely the best of them, but Curtis Brown and Chykie Brown are both likely to be in the NFL next year too. All three of them are tall (approximately 6’0″) and athletic. In fact, Curtis Brown is a guy that I’d love to see the Steelers pick up in the 3rd or 4th round if he’s available. Chykie was definitely the weakest of the 3, but I can even see him playing nickel in the NFL next year. He broke his arm this past season, so we didn’t get to see a complete body of work from him. But I think that he’s worth taking in the later rounds (rounds 5-7).

    Finally, I really think that Aaron Williams would excel as a safety in the NFL. IMO, he doesn’t have the on ball skills that Prince Amukamara and Patrick Peterson have (Yes, Prince didn’t have any interceptions this year, but that’s because teams REALLY DID avoid him. As a junior, Amukamara had 5 interceptions). But Williams has the size, speed, and smarts to be the #1 safety in this year’s draft. In fact, he was a safety in H.S. He was an All-American at the position during his junior and senior years.

    Lastly, I agree with you completely that Aaron Williams is a good kid, and the Steelers aren’t likely to find any skeletons hidden in his closet. He’d make a great Pittsburgh Steeler. I just hope that it’s in the 2nd round rather than the 1st.

    Thanks again for your comment. I love talking football with knowledgeable fans, and you’re obviously one. It the Steelers take Williams, then we’ll both get to root for him next season. :-)

  10. very interesting points about williams. i personally think the steelers will either trade up or down depending on how the draft falls. looking at who they brought in for visits, they spent very few on players that have late first/early second round grades. admittedly though, they may have had all their visits with those players at the draft combine.

  11. If nor Williams then who? They need a corner who can stop a pass, PERIOD. If they don’t address the position they may as well dress Coach Lake and put the old guy out there. I’d rather see that that another annoying season of McFadden getting burned like a Hawaiian Fire dancer’s skirt.


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