I don’t think people appreciate Marcus Williams enough.
The biggest reason some fans don’t appreciate the stud safety out of Utah enough is because they forget how absurdly awful the New Orleans Saints defense, and specifically the secondary, was before he got to New Orleans.
Everyone remembers the few big plays Williams has given up over the past few years. We all know them. I don’t think I need to remind anyone reading this about the Meaningless Minnesota Miracle or the Emmanuel Sanders touchdown he gave up last year versus the San Francisco 49ers.
But what some people seem to forget is plays like that happened on a near weekly basis before 2017. Now, they’re few and farther between, and that’s part of why it’s such a shock when they do happen.
Does he need to work on his tackling? Sure, even though he’s not as bad at that as some make him out to be. But then again, a lot of good safeties need to work on their tackling. The simple fact is he is a top-five free safety in coverage based on the numbers and the tape.
And you just don’t let players that good go to waste, especially when they’re not even 24-years-old yet.
While it may cause a bit of cognitive dissonance for some reading, one of Williams’s strengths is how many big plays he prevents week in and week out from the free safety spot.
From 2014-2016, the Saints defense was 30th in the league in percentage of 15+ yard pass plays (explosive plays) given up, at nearly 16-percent, according to Pro Football Focus.
In 2017-2019, that number decreased to 13.5-percent, which is the 12th-lowest in that time span. And in 2019 alone, it was at 11.5-percent, which was fifth-lowest in the league.
Does having Marshon Lattimore help those numbers as well? Of course!
But good safety play has a direct correlation to limiting big plays, especially those targeted deep or down the middle of the field.
So in an attempt to further highlight how strong Williams has been in deep coverage and in the middle of the field, I looked up the same percentage of explosive pass plays given up, but with only deep routes and deep-ish in-breaking routes — no out-breaking routes except for deep corners, and no hitches, slants or curls were included.
This way, the 15+ yard plays given up that have little to do with the safety are filtered out a bit. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely a better sample to glean from.
With these modifications, New Orleans is still near the top of the league with Williams at safety.
From 2014-2016, the Saints gave up an explosive pass play 29.9 percent of the time on deep or in-breaking routes, which ranked 24th in the league. From 2017-2019, it was 26 percent, which was seventh-best.
Playing from the deep safety position, your first and primary goal is to prevent plays from getting behind you. Due to camera and TV angles, they don’t usually get recognition for the big plays that could’ve happened had they not been in the right place deep down the field.
This is an area that Williams is light years better than any safety New Orleans has since had Darren Sharper.
In the play below, the Seattle Seahawks are running a Yankee-type concept, with a deep post by the Z receiver at the bottom of the screen and a deep crosser by the X. This concept is meant to put one-high safety in a tough position, by having to decide between cracking down on the crosser or staying deep with the post, especially if your linebackers underneath bite on a run fake.
Here, Williams recognizes the concept and practically covers both routes. He takes a step down to his left, like he’s going to press down on the crosser, but stays true to the deep post.
He gives Russell Wilson this look, like he’s going to squeeze the crosser, so Wilson comes off of it. By then, the deep post is covered and he has no choice but to throw it away.
The slot receiver has P.J. Williams beaten inside here, but Marcus flips his hips and runs with him, causing Wilson to take off.
And these are just a couple of examples. This stuff is littered throughout his tape.
Williams has an interception total in the regular season and postseason combined from 2017-2019 of 11 picks that out-weighs the entire Saints safety group from 2014-2016, which combined for 10.
A lot of these came on those few occasions when quarterbacks would decide to test him on deep balls. Has he given up a couple big plays before? Yes. But most of the time, when he’s tested deep, good things happen for the Saints defense.
His closing speed is so underrated. In the play below, New Orleans is doubling Deandre Hopkins at the bottom of the screen, but are manned up everywhere else, with Williams alone in the middle of the field.
Will Fuller beats P.J. Williams cleanly inside on a Seam route, but he bends it away from Williams, towards the sideline, to give Deshaun Watson more room to throw it. It didn’t matter though.
Williams literally takes off from the opposite hash as Watson is releasing the ball to make the pick on the numbers of the other side of the field, and in an absolutely crucial moment in the game.
I think the Saints are in Cover 3 zone here, and Eli Apple gets absolutely toasted on a “Out N Up.” But Williams reads Ryan’s eyes, reacts and closes quickly for the pick.
So, he helped turn a defense that was hemorrhaging big plays into one of the best at limiting them, and he became one of the best play-making safeties in the league... yet there is a large group of people who wouldn’t like to see him re-signed. That’s just interesting to me.
This dude has achieved, or helped achieve, all of this at less than 24-years-old. He could sign a five-year deal, and still not be 30 by the time it expires.
And I know the Saints salary cap situation. They have very limited resources — projected cap space of -$37.7 million projected 2021 cap space by Over the Cap — with a ton of talented guys to re-sign — Alvin Kamara, Ryan Ramczyk, Marshon Lattimore, Demario Davis, Sheldon Rankins and more.
My thing is, Marcus Williams should undoubtedly be mentioned in that group of players who are musts to re-sign, whether they have to move people around to keep him or not. He plays an invaluable position that very clearly has a huge impact on the amount of big plays this defense gives up, and he’s been as consistent as a heat pump.
Not to mention, all Saints fans LOVE to point out how the salary cap isn’t real and Mickey Loomis can make room for anyone, so why can’t the same be true for Williams?
Call me crazy, but give me the guy who it takes an actual miracle for him to give up a big play through the air, any day of the week. Give me Marcus Williams, and give him to me long-term.
What do you think of Marcus Williams? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @andy_b_123.