The New England Patriots traded up in the 2019 NFL draft to bring cornerback Joejuan Williams aboard, but the Vanderbilt product still only saw limited playing time over the course of his rookie season due to the team’s impressive depth at his position. Williams was active for just 10 of the Patriots’ 17 combined regular season and playoff contests, and was on the field for a mere 85 of a possible 1,070 defensive snaps (7.9%) along the way.
Heading into his second year in New England’s system, the 45th overall selection of last year’s draft is therefore trying to make himself more valuable to the operation by expanding his repertoire as a defensive back: according to ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss, Williams is attempting to become a jack-of-all-trades within New England’s secondary, and wants to grow into a serious challenger for snaps at the safety position as well.
Playing safety would be nothing new for the 22-year-old. While he did not see any action at the position over the course of the regular season and playoffs, the Patriots did use him in this capacity during the preseason finale against the New York Giants: 70 of Williams’ 87 defensive snaps came with him aligned either as a free safety like Devin McCourty or closer to the box as a linebacker/strong safety hybrid in the mold of Patrick Chung.
Heading into 2020, Williams could therefore become a chess piece whose usage depends on the opponent and game plan. He could again see some action as New England’s fourth perimeter cornerback behind Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty and J.C. Jackson, but also could be moved closer to the formation as a safety to help defend against opposing tight ends. His size — 6-foot-4, 212 pounds — certainly makes him a candidate to fill that role.
While the Patriots are deep in the secondary after losing only one of their top eight defensive backs in terms of playing time since last year — number three safety Duron Harmon, who was traded to Detroit in March — Williams still offers value as the tallest member of the group. Whether he can take advantage of this and carve out a specialized role outside of his contributions in the kicking game remains to be seen, but he appears to actively be working on it.