By now, it’s well-understood around the NFL that Marcus Williams is among the best hawking free safeties in the NFL. The Utah product has made a bigger impact with each passing season in the NFL, and his confidence appears to be growing. Williams will be playing on the franchise tag in 2021, though it’s common thought that there will be an extension before the season.
The New Orleans Saints, however, still haven’t figured out their cornerback No. 2 situation. Currently, Patrick Robinson is best-suited to it on the roster, but that would put him out of position from where he thrived for the Eagles — a slot corner. There are several DBs the Saints could be chasing, but they’re dragging their feet on making a push for them. Williams is likely the reason why.
Williams will give whoever is playing cornerback for the Saints a bit of leeway, but it’s contingent upon the consistency of Marshon Lattimore. Dennis Allen can shade Williams to help whoever is opposite Lattimore, provided that Lattimore is playing the lockdown coverage we know he’s capable of.
Lattimore is at the top of the screen on this play, and this is what it looks like when he gets beat. Calvin Ridley does a nice little stutter at the line, and leaves Lattimore at the line of scrimmage. Williams is relegated to a nonfactor on this play, as he’s helping over the top third of the field. The Saints are running a robber coverage here, allowing Williams to play over the top. However, when a corner gets beat like this, sometimes all you can do is tip your cap and go out for the next down.
The Saints need as few plays like this as possible from Lattimore next year. Williams will need to be able to work over the top, and if he cheats down bad things will start to happen.
The focus on this play is Allen Robinson being covered by Janoris Jenkins on top of the screen (where the pass is completed). The other two players to look at are Williams and Malcolm Jenkins. It’s hard to figure exactly where this play went wrong, but there’s a decent guess.
Once again, this looks like a robber situation where Williams stays over the top while Malcolm Jenkins plays underneath. Malcolm Jenkins, however, follows the receiver on the bottom of the screen, and doesn’t pass him off to Williams. Williams, seeing this, stays underneath, but he isn’t able to get deep enough under to break up the play.
This is a split second read that is tough to make, and Williams being on an island wouldn’t make things much better. It’s an impressive play from Williams to know to crash under since Jenkins is staying on the streaking receiver. In a true hawking situation, he could potentially break harder on the pass, but as things are a few different scenarios are playing out at once.
Reads like these are so important for a safety, and it’s rare to see Williams make a wrong one. While he’s by no means perfect, his ability to see who’s beaten and who needs help is among the best in the league.
Plays like this show the ridiculous amount of range Williams has, and how that range can lull quarterbacks into making mistakes. As soon as Tom Brady looks to throw this ball down the sideline, Williams makes his break. By the time Brady knows the hook is baited, it’s too late. Williams gets over for the interception.
These types of plays require a combination of speed and instincts, and this play is made with Williams playing the entire center of the field. The Saints appear to be working under the assumption that if Williams has to do less next year, or rather, think less, his athleticism can be on full display.
A few key changes may well end up being made for the Saints in coverage next year. Lattimore being on more islands, Williams shaded to one side of the field more often, and way fewer robber coverages. Malcolm Jenkins played them well for the Saints last year, but Williams was limited at times because of them. He’s at his best when he can make plays coming downhill on the ball (see the hit below on Ridley for an example).
The Saints aren’t in a horrible spot defensively for next year, but they need to have someone who can somewhat keep players in check. While it would be nice to allow Williams to roam the field at his heart’s content, that’s unlikely given their cornerback situation. Luckily for the Saints, however, they don’t have to rush into decisions because of Williams’ talent.
Clearly, the defense will be willing to lean on that talent. Whether it’s someone already on the roster or someone they’re yet to sign in free agency, the Saints secondary will have its work cut out for it next year. They love the pieces they have in place — that is, Williams and Lattimore — but they’re still figuring things out.
That could be seen as very bad or very exciting at this point in the offseason. But one thing is for certain: Lattimore and Williams have a lot riding on them in what are, as of now, contract years. Perhaps that’s why the Saints are dragging their feet on an extension — they want to see if they can handle that pressure.