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Marcus Williams is one step away from being in the NFL’s elite

The Saints’ center-fielding safety needs to improve his tackling

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Saints free safety Marcus Williams is best known for two plays. Both of which point out the single most influential part of his game.

The Minneapolis Miracle. George Kittle’s 39-yard catch and subsequent facemask this past season.

Williams’s two defining plays point out his biggest flaw and the last step he needs to take in order to become one of the best in his position. Marcus needs to improve his tackling.

Before we get into the bad, let’s talk about the good. Entering his fourth year in the NFL, Marcus Williams has become one of the NFL’s premier free-ranging, center-fielding safeties.

He came into the NFL with a bang, collective five interceptions in his 2017 rookie season. Williams even had a crucial interception late in the now infamous game against the Minnesota Vikings in the 2017 playoffs, looking like one of the heroes of the Saints’ then-comeback before making the play that would go on to define his rookie season.

After a sophomore slump in 2018, where he only gathered two interceptions, let up five touchdowns and missed nine tackles while only making 47 (compared to 73 made tackles his rookie year), Williams came roaring back to life in 2019.

An impressive interception in Week 1 vs the Houston Texans marked a return to form for Williams. Williams read the eyes of Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, one of the best QBs in the league, and managed to track this ball all the way across the field before jumping in front of Deandre Hopkins, one of the best wide receivers in the league, to get the interception.

This play was exceptional and showed Williams’s elite playmaking ability in the secondary. He’d go on to make five interceptions in 2020, but none after his biggest problem reared its ugly head again in Week 14.

Williams struggles with tackling. He’s not the worst in the league at the skill, but he’s close to the bottom. Per Pro Football Focus, Williams went 6.2 attempted tackles per miss in 2020, good for 47th out of 62 qualified safeties (played at least 50% of snaps in 2020).

When you focus that down to attempted tackles per miss on passing plays, he drops down to 5.7 ATPM (55th out of 62). While there are worse safeties with those numbers, it’s still a problem that Williams needs to fix in order to establish himself as one of the best safeties in the league.

He doesn’t even need to be a premium tackler, because that’s not his role with the team. He just needs to improve to average in order to make that final step.

The sad part about this problem is that his lack of tackling ability overshadows the rest of his exceptional game. Williams has proven himself to be a valuable piece of the Saints defense, one that could be worthy of a second contract at the end of his rookie deal (s/o to our own Andrew Bell for detailing why here).

But when his tackling issues are openly costing the Saints games, it becomes impossible to overlook. Marcus Williams right now is a very good safety. But he’s still one step away from being truly great.