Entering the 2019 NFL draft, no position on the New England Patriots’ roster was deeper than cornerback: led by All-Pro Stephon Gilmore, the group had an intriguing blend of experience and youth, versatility and physicality. Despite that, the team opted to add another piece to it by trading up and drafting Vanderbilt’s Joejuan Williams with the 45th overall selection on Friday.
Shortly after hearing his name called, the 21-year-old went on a conference call with the New England media to speak about his experience and what he will bring to the table. Listening to him speak, one of the attributes that stand out right away is Williams’ confidence: the rookie, who has uncharacteristic length for a player at his position, certainly knows about his skills and productivity in college.
“I feel like I have the complete package: I can run, cover and hit,” Williams said when asked about his best attributes as a defensive back. “At the end of the day, if you look at all of my numbers in the SEC, I was ranked first in everything, whether it was passes defended, pass breakups, interceptions as a corner, solo tackles as a corner. So, I feel like that complete package is what I bring to the team.”
Williams’ outspoken nature extends beyond confidence, however, and is also what made him a leader at Vanderbilt by his own definition. “I definitely consider myself a leader,” he said. “I feel like for me, I led by example. I led by actions. I’m not the type that’s going to yell and get in your face about anything. I want to lead by action, I want to lead by making plays.”
Making plays Williams did in college — in part because of his intriguing skill set but also because of his versatility: the second-round selection has lined up in various spots for the Commodores, even though the team kept him on the perimeter for most of 2018. “Last year the coaches wanted me primarily at the boundary by the end of the year and that’s what I did,” the new Patriot told the press.
“At the end of the day, I’ll do whatever the coaches say. I feel like I can contribute anywhere,” he added. In New England, Williams will likely wear numerous hats: he could play a Brandon Browner-esque role as a tall, physical outside cornerback, move inside to help cover tight ends, and contribute in the kicking game as well. And in order to successfully do all his tasks, Williams knows what he has to do: pick the brains of the players surrounding him.
One of those is the aforementioned Stephon Gilmore. “Whatever I can get from him, I plan on picking it,” said Williams. “At the end of the day, he’s one of the best in the league and I want to be one of the best in the league. I have to learn from the greats and whatever he does — eating, sleeping, nutrition, treatment — I want to pick from him and try to get that off his game. From playbook to life, that’s something I want to learn because I want to be one of the greats just like him.”
Williams’ eagerness to learn also can be seen in his commitment to the sport. “I watch film like I watch Games of Thrones or something,” said the second-round selection who also said that he wanted to go into coaching one day. “That’s just who I am. Football runs in my blood. That’s definitely how I work.”