Marcus Williams and Downfield Ball Skills

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Marcus Williams’s sideline-to-sideline range makes him an attractive proposition as a single-high safety at the next level. The spread of Seattle’s Cover 3 system across the league has made this rare type of player very sought after. A free safety who has range is crucial to the success of this scheme.

What is also important at the free safety position in a Cover 3 is ball skills. Once the safety has used his play recognition and range to get in the right position, he needs to be able to either go up and get the football, or swat the pass incomplete.

This is where Williams encounters some issues. When having to turn to cover downfield, he plays the man rather than the ball. He does not get his head around to locate the football. In my scouting report on the prospect, found in the 2017 ITP Draft Guide, I borrowed a Dave Archibald line to describe Williams’s play as: “Akin to a baseball outfielder reading the bat and then running to the spot, but not necessarily adjusting to where the ball is.”

Here Utah plays Williams in a two-high coverage, after rotating their other safety deep just before the snap. Williams would be comfortable playing as a two-high in the NFL. He does a lot of things right on this play, but then shows a trait that applies to him playing from a single-high shell too, with the overarching point of this article applying.

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Perhaps Williams is just worried about being beat over the top by the pass, which is slightly underthrown. However, Williams seems totally consumed with playing the man once he is in position to make a potential play on the ball. Perhaps Williams had been jibing with the receiver in the game. Whatever the case, this is something that NFL officiating crews will quickly register. If a defensive back shows no intent to play the ball, chances are high that a flag will be thrown for defensive pass interference.

Furthermore, if Williams had managed to turn his head around in an attempt to locate the ball, he would have had an easy interception – especially if he had flipped his hips. If worried about being beat over the top, he could have used his sideline facing arm to maintain contact with the receiver.

Instead, the ball hits Williams in his back. The pass falls incomplete, but the outcome could have been so much better – with the potential for an interception – or so much worse, with the potential for a defensive pass interference call.

So, there is a clear area for Williams to improve in regards to his pass defense. It is this, combined with other issues that can be found in the 2017 ITP Draft Guide, which limits his draft stock. If he can change how he plays the ball once he is in position, he will be one of the better free safeties in the league at covering that deep middle third.

This article was inspired by scouting work done for the Inside the Pylon Draft Guide. Matty scouted running backs, cornerbacks, and safeties for the guide. Order your copy today at

Check out more of Matty’s work here, including a look at how Dalvin Cook’s combine confirmed the tapewhy Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers isn’t an NFL linebacker, and an interview with New Mexico DB Lee Crosby on his journey to the NFL.

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All film courtesy of Draft Breakdown.

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