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Free agent profile: Cornerback K’Waun Williams

Should the Broncos try to pry K’Waun Williams from the San Francisco 49ers?

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San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals
Should the Broncos add another mighty mite to the secondary?
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

The Broncos played 10 different cornerbacks in 2020 and recently cut their starting boundary corner A.J. Bouyé. To call the position a dire need is an understatement.

It’s the most obvious need on the team and one that George Paton will surely address at some point this off-season.

Fortunately the veteran market looks like it will be loaded at the position this March, so Paton has options if he goes that route. Bryce Callahan’s ability to fit into Fangio’s scheme as an inside or outside corner gives the Broncos flexibility with how to address the need. One intriguing veteran is the 49ers’ K’Waun Williams.

Player Profile

K’Waun Williams, Cornerback, San Francisco 49ers

Height: 5’9”

Weight: 185 lbs.

Age: 29

Experience: 6 NFL Seasons

After he went undrafted out of Pitt Williams received all of two invitations to rookie camps from NFL teams. Williams chose to try out for the Cleveland Browns instead of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He did so in no small part because the Browns employed Jeff Hafley, who coached him in college. The decision paid dividends as the rookie received a two-year deal in May. He found his way to playing time quickly and started four games his rookie season, finishing with a sack, eight passes defensed and almost 40 tackles.

Williams played another 13 games for the Browns in 2015 before an ankle injury turned into an ugly departure from Cleveland. The team suspended and then fined him for an ankle injury that wound up needing surgery in 2016. This lost season led an open market where multiple teams tried to sign Williams. He ultimately chose to reunite with Coach Hafley on the San Francisco 49ers.

Counting the Niners playoff run in 2019, Williams has played in 54 out of a possible 67 games. By Pro Football Reference charting he’s hauled in three interceptions to go along with seven forced fumbles, six sacks, 16 tackles for a loss and 13 passes defensed.

Why it makes sense

The Broncos have an immediate need at cornerback and Williams could make a ton of sense if he’s healthy in 2021. By Sports Info Solutions’ charting he allowed just 3.8 yards per target last season and Pro Football Focus credits him with just one touchdown allowed over the past two seasons.

In addition to what Williams brings to the table in coverage he’s willing to do what many corners consider dirty work. Williams is a capable run defender who shouldn’t be a liability in lighter personnel groupings, and he can be a threat in pressure packages. By SIS charting he’s averaged more than a blitz game over his entire career with the Niners and rushed 24 times in eight games a year ago. Before he took the Jets’ head coaching job Robert Saleh named a blitz after him.

Nickel is base in today’s NFL and the Broncos are no exception. They play more snaps with three corners on the field than three defensive linemen, so a slot corner is valuable.

Why it doesn’t make sense

Pairing two smaller, injury prone corners together could blow up in the Broncos’ faces.

Like Callahan, Williams has missed time in every season he’s played in the NFL. When you factor in his size and the fact he turns 30 in July, it seems reasonable to expect that to continue. It’s concerning how many of Williams’ ailments are soft tissues injuries to his lower body: hamstring, sprained ACL, high ankle sprain. He’s also missed time due to a concussions.

He’s best suited for the slot, which pushes Callahan to play on the perimeter fulltime. Odds are this locks Michael Ojemudia into a starting role in base personnel barring another move. While Fangio and the coaching staff seemed happy to play with Callahan on the boundary last season they may prefer to keep him inside against three+ receiver sets.

Throughout Williams’ career he’s followed Jeff Hafley, who’s now the head coach at Boston College. While I doubt the veteran corner will go back to school and he’s certainly inelgible to play because of NCAA rules, it seems relationships are important to him. This may give the New York Jets and 49ers a big leg up in pursuing him this offseason.

Final Thoughts

Williams’ age and injury history are rather large concerns, but they’re likely to suppress his market as well. If the Broncos can find a way to sign him for a flexible contract or one built around incentives I would be intrigued. I just hope a Williams signing does not keep George Paton from continuing to add to the cornerback room.