The New England Patriots, who will be off until training camp starts later this month, currently have 89 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with one of New England’s draft picks this year.
Name: Joejuan Williams
Jersey number: TBD (offseason #51)
Opening day age: 21
Size: 6’3, 210 lbs.
2018 review: Joejuan Williams already earned a starting role at Vanderbilt during his 2017 sophomore season, and he was able to build on it in his junior year: appearing in all thirteen of the Commodores games (with twelve starts to his name), Williams delivered the best season of his career as a physical cornerback and reliable playmaker on the perimeter — all while playing in college football’s toughest conference, the SEC.
All in all, the third-year man was on the field for 904 of Vanderbilt’s defensive snaps and targeted in coverage on 75 of them. Of the passes thrown Williams’ way, 36 were completed for a success rate of only 48.0%. And while he did give up 451 yards and 5 touchdowns, the cornerback — who was regularly used in the kicking game as well — also intercepted 4 pass attempts while breaking up 10 more.
Williams was also active as a run defender and overall ended his 2018 season with 60 solo tackles and 10 assists; 22 of his tackles resulted in stops with only 8 of his attempted take-downs being categorized as missed tackles. This consistency in combination with his competitiveness in coverage earned Williams a spot on the All-SEC team — and landed him high on teams’ draft boards after he decided to forgo his senior season to enter the pros.
Even though the scouting combine did not necessarily help him boost his stock — he ranked third among cornerbacks with 17 bench-press reps but also posted the third-worst 40-yard-dash (4.63 seconds) — Williams was still one of the more intriguing cornerbacks entering the college player selection meeting. After all, his unique build and physicality made him a developmental player worth taking a closer look at.
2019 preview: On the second day of the draft, the Patriots traded up from the 56th to the 45th spot — they also gave up a third-round selection as part of the deal — in order to get Williams on board. His draft status naturally makes the 21-year-old a lock to be on New England’s roster this season; the main question heading into 2019 will therefore be how much playing time he will see during his rookie season in a crowded defensive backfield.
It would not be a surprise if it was quite a lot, actually. After all, Williams is a rather unique cornerback given his 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame in combination with his athletic skillset and versatility: he has the size to match up with taller wide receivers and tight ends, the physicality and experience to play press-man coverage on the boundary, and the intelligence to line up in the slot as well. He is, quite frankly, a jack of all trades.
As such and given the composition of the Patriots’ cornerback group as a whole, Williams should be expected to see regular playing time. When New England plays the Kansas City Chiefs, for example, he could be used to cover tight end Travis Kelce — a task that primarily fell on 6-foot-1 cornerback J.C. Jackson during the playoffs. Given his size and moving skills, Williams projects to play a key role against receiving tight ends such as Kelce.
While his usage will be dependent on opponent and situation, Williams will likely play an important albeit not a starting-caliber role in 2019 as a rotational nickel and dime cornerback — and a player seeing regular snaps in the kicking game as well.