Niners Live believes that if nickel cornerback K’Waun Williams is 100% and plays like he did in his first two seasons in the NFL, slot receivers are going to be held in check when facing the Red and Gold.
K’Waun Williams, 5’9 183 lbs., was one of the first signings by first-time general manager John Lynch. He signed a one year contract after missing the 2016 season with an ankle injury for the Cleveland Browns. Williams went undrafted in 2014 out of Pittsburg University. Not only did he make the team, he won the starting nickel back position and was one of the most effective players at his position in the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
Key stat alert: In his first two seasons (2014-15) respectively, Pro Football Focus rated Williams as one of just eight players to allow fewer than 1.0 yards per cover snap among cornerbacks with 200 or more snaps in slot coverage, with his 0.94 mark ranking seventh.
The starting nickel back position is up for grabs this offseason. Jimmie Ward has been moved to free safety and incumbent Chris Davis ended the season on IR and wasn’t re-signed. The void of the position will be filled by Williams or second-year player Will Redmond, who missed the entire 2016 season because of a college ACL injury.
Jeff Hafley, secondary coach for the 49ers, has a history with Williams. Hafley is one of his biggest supporters. Hafley recruited Williams out of high school, coached him at Pitt, and then coached him in his first two seasons with Browns. Clearly, Hafley was involved in convincing the front office to give Williams a shot at the 53 man roster.
“I’ve always thought the world of him, and I know he can play. At the time, I thought he was one of the better nickel backs in the NFL, and I’m really, really excited to have him. Just a great person. Works hard. Does the right things. He’s the kind of kid battles his way through and always comes out on top,” Hafley said this offseason (via Eric Branch of SFGate.com).
With a trusted tutor in Hafley, it’s up to Williams to get back to playing health and conditioning and regain his productive form. Niners Lives believes he’ll play up to his ability and be a key contributor to the 49ers’ new 4-3 defense. The nickel back position is practically a starting position with defenses lining up in nickel and dime packages in about 70% of defensive snaps. Slot receivers are getting more and more targets each season. Williams has proven that he can provide tight coverage and sound tackling ability on these shifty, quick lateral movements and be a sure-handed slot receiver, which has become the new offense fad in the NFL.
Don’t sleep on K’Waun Williams. Despite his size limits and draft status, he has proven to be a highly consistent defender in the league. He possesses top intangibles while playing with a mean streak. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s defense will play an aggressive brand of defense, “Extreme Violence”. He wants his unit to strike fear into their opponents with their violent style of play. Williams fits this bill, he isn’t shy about contact, and is determined to shut down his man. Lastly, the talent of the players around Williams is better than he had with the Browns.
Look for big things from Williams in 2017. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Please join us again soon on Niners Live, home of the fan and analyst.
As always, keep your eyes wide open, 49er fans. Niners Live will be watching with you. #eyeswideopen and often imitated but never duplicated… Go Niners.
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All records, statistics, and accolades are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com, Pro Football Focus, 49ers.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com unless otherwise indicated. Author Jimi Payne Staff Writer at Niners live. Co-Author, Editor NinersLive.