Niner Noise approaches the end of our 2017 “Who Is?” series on San Francisco 49ers players. In this installment, we look at cornerback K’Waun Williams and his possible impact this season.
The move made a lot of sense. San Francisco was going to bump defensive back Jimmie Ward from covering the slot back to his natural free safety position. And with second-year pro Will Redmond having yet to play an NFL down, Williams could easily be a plug-and-play option at nickel.
Yet Williams missed all of 2016 with an ankle injury. Before that, though, he had emerged as a solid corner for the Cleveland Browns:
Despite his smallish 5-foot-9, 183-pound frame, Williams plays bigger than he appears. And this is a good thing to have for a 49ers defense with plenty of questions at the cornerback position heading into 2017.
So what will the Niners expect from Williams this season, and how will he either improve or regress within this revamped defense?
Let’s take a look.
Why He’ll Improve
Before his injury, Williams was one of the better slot corners in the NFL in 2014 and 2015. Just ask Pro Football Focus:
This is the kind of play San Francisco is hoping Williams will emulate his first season with the Niners.
All this should help Williams regain the same sort of prowess he experienced his first two years at the NFL level.
Why He’ll Regress
Williams’ injury is something to watch, as it forced him to miss all of last year.
Year-long injuries certainly aren’t career-enders, per se. But the Niners coaching staff will surely be monitoring how well he’s coming back from this major setback.
According to Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Williams was having all sorts of trouble covering perceived No. 1 slot receiver, Jeremy Kerley, during the team’s OTA sessions in May. It’s still early, so it’s hard to read too much into this. But it’s something worth pointing out.
The Niners are also going to force Williams to compete with Redmond for starting duties this season. Had it not been for a collegiate ACL injury, Redmond could have been a fringe first-round pick back in 2016. While Williams has proven himself already at the pro level, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Redmond end up getting more first-team reps by the time the preseason rolls around.
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What to Expect in 2017
The one-year deal dished out to Williams says what you need to know. San Francisco is certainly intrigued by the cornerback’s pre-injury abilities enough to bring him aboard for 2017.
But the team isn’t convinced he’s a long-term solution. Not yet, at least.
Williams has the edge over Redmond with both practical NFL experience and not being associated with the Niners’ previous regime. The fact he was one of Lynch’s first offseason moves speaks volumes here.
So this likely means Williams’ spot on the 53-man roster is safe, unless injuries get in the way.
Whether or not he’ll be the starting nickel cornerback, though, is still up in the air.
A likely guess has Williams assuming this role to start the season. If Redmond continues an upward trajectory over the course of 2017, the Niners may be enticed to give the second-year pro more snaps, all but removing Williams from long-term consideration.
Yet all this is to be determined, and it remains a key camp-competition battle to watch in August.