The New England Patriots don’t have a need at cornerback, yet some prominent NFL voices are implying that the Patriots are interested in Vanderbilt cornerback Joejuan Williams. At first glance, this doesn’t make too much sense. New England’s cornerback depth chart is already solid with Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and Jason McCourty headlining a strong depth chart. However, could Williams’ skill set be too good for New England to turn down?
New England Patriots 2019 NFL Draft Targets: Joejuan Williams
Joejuan Williams skipped his senior year of college to declare for the 2019 NFL Draft. It’s hard to blame him for this decision, as the Nashville native had a fantastic 2018 season. Appearing in 13 games, Williams recorded four interceptions, 13 passes defended, and 61 tackles during his time on the field. His 13 passes defended led his conference and he finished the year earning Second-Team All-SEC honors.
As implied by his pass breakups, Williams has a nose for the ball. This wasn’t a one-year fluke, as Williams defended 10 passes as a sophomore. While he doesn’t always turn these breakups into interceptions, he’s always around the ball and has the awareness to get his hand on incoming passes.
Williams is a cornerback in a linebacker’s body. His 6’4” height ranked in the 98th percentile of cornerbacks while his 211 pounds ranked in the 96th percentile. He recorded 17 reps at the bench press, and the film shows that he knows how to use his freakish strength and size in man coverage. He doesn’t get overpowered by larger receivers and typically pushes his man towards the sideline when playing press.
Despite his massive frame, Williams has surprisingly good lateral movement. He didn’t perform the agility tests at the NFL Combine, but the film shows that Williams is more than capable of following receivers all over the field. The best example of this comes when Williams faced off against Ole Miss and potential first-round pick A.J. Brown. Williams followed the shifty wideout all over the field and didn’t allow a catch until the fourth quarter. If he can do that against Brown, then he could be able to do it on a week-by-week basis in the NFL.
Having a body that big has its’ downsides, as Williams is one of the slowest cornerbacks in the draft. His 4.64 40-yard dash placed him in the seventh percentile among cornerbacks, which obviously isn’t ideal. Because of his lack of speed, Williams isn’t made for zone coverage. Simply put, he doesn’t have the necessary range to cover a predetermined portion of the field.
Because Williams plays so much press, he’s naturally more susceptible to pass interference penalties. Additionally, his aggressive play comes with its’ share of downsides. If he gets his hands on the receiver, he almost always disrupts the route and wins the rep. However, when he misses, he tends to give up big plays. Williams doesn’t have great recovery speed and smaller, faster receivers can exploit Williams in the deep part of the field.
How Joejuan Williams Could Fit
Joejuan Williams could be an above-average starter in the right defensive system. Williams has impressive ball skills and elite size and strength for the position. Despite his larger frame, Williams has solid lateral movement ability and can line up all across the formation. What he did against A.J. Brown spoke wonders about his ability to cover NFL-caliber wide receivers. As an added bonus, Williams is also a strong run defender who doesn’t miss tackles.
Williams could be a great boundary cornerback in New England, but New England might not use him in that role. Williams’ game is similar to that of former Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner. Browner, of course, helped New England win Super Bowl XLIX while starting opposite Darrelle Revis. However, New England also experimented with Browner as a pseudo-linebacker at various points throughout that season.
The main reason New England didn’t use Browner more in the linebacker role is that they had Patrick Chung. Chung isn’t as big as Browner or Williams, but he possesses a similar ability to win with physicality while playing linebacker, safety, and cornerback. Chung recently received a one-year extension but is also coming off a broken arm and will be 32 at the start of the season.
Albert Breer reported that the Patriots might try to mold Williams in the image of Chung. It’s an interesting strategy, as Williams theoretically has all the tools needed to do the job. Chung is one of the most underrated and underappreciated pieces of New England’s secondary, and there’s currently no clear backup on the roster. Williams could take Chung’s versatility to a whole new level, as he could potentially play every position in New England’s secondary. Selecting Williams might seem strange on the surface, but this is the type of forward-thinking that lets New England stay ahead of the pack.