The New York Giants surprised by using all 10 of their draft picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. The majority of their picks were in the late rounds, with four coming in the seventh round. And with that in mind, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that a team now coached by a career special teams coach would use their late-round picks on players with an eye toward special teams.
The third of the Giants’ four seventh-round picks was used to select Chris Williamson out of Minnesota. Drafted as a cornerback, Williamson was much more of a generalist in Minnesota’s defense, which likely appealed to defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. However, like most late-round players, Williamson will have to earn his way onto the field as a special teams player before getting on the field as a defender.
Let’s take a look at Williamson and see what he brings to the field.
Play 1) Minnesota vs. Nebraska
First quarter, 11:37, Second-and-8
While Williamson was drafted as a “cornerback” it’s probably more accurate to say that he played a “nickelback” position for Minnesota’s defense. He played in a variety of sub packages and his exact alignment would shift between slot corner, box safety, or psuedo-linebacker. But regardless of the exact position and alignment, Williamson was almost always near the line of scrimmage. And as such, tackling is important — particularly the willingness to tackle.
This is a fairly straight forward play, with the tight end lined up at H-back and runs across the field behind the line of scrimmage while the two receivers to that side run down the field. The goal is likely to either give the quarterback an exploitable match-up down the field or an easy completion to advance the ball.
Williamson is in man coverage on the tight end, and it’s his job to bring the big man down, or at least slow him enough his teammates can rally to the ball. He does a good job of navigating the chaos around the line of scrimmage while staying with the tight end. Interestingly, Williamson adds a slight flair as the catch is made, turning away from the tight end slightly, but doing so allows him to square his hips and tackle through the tight end.
The tight end might have been able to run through a glancing blow if Williamson hadn’t adjusted his angle just before attempting the tackle. Instead, Williamson is able to bring him to the ground for a small gain.
More than the tackle itself, though it its a good one, I wanted to highlight Williamson’s willingness to take on a player who is a full 60 pounds heavier.
Play 2) Minnesota vs. Nebraska
First quarter, 6:32, First-and-10
On tape, Williamson was at his best when playing downhill, and in particular as a blitzer. While you can’t say he was a “frequent” pass rusher in Minnesota’s defense, it isn’t foreign to him, either. Minnesota had several blitz packages involving Williamson, blitzing from both a cornerback position and — as he does here — as a box player.
Williamson starts out lined up about where a weak side linebacker would typically be. It’s a reasonable assumption that he’s going to play a shallow zone as Minnesota appears to be in a Cover-2 defense with two deep safeties. Instead, they rotate to a man coverage at the snap of the ball and Williamson blitzes through the B-gap.
He shows good explosiveness and timing in his blitz. He hesitates just long enough for the MIKE linebacker to occupy the left guard, freeing up the B-gap. With the guard occupied, Williamson is able to easily beat the right tackle to the inside and gets through the gap almost untouched. Williamson probably should have come up with the sack, but winds up being unable to finish the rush. However, he disrupted the quarterback enough that his teammates are easily able to finish the play.
Play 3) Minnesota at Purdue
First quarter, 1:01, Second-and-10
We’ve already mentioned a couple times that Williamson primarily played close to the line of scrimmage in Minnesota’s defense. As such, he needed to have a quick trigger to come downhill against running plays and passes in the underneath area.
Williamson starts out this play lined up in the slot on the defensive left and initially drops into a shallow zone. However, he quickly recognizes the hand-off to the running back and comes downhill to make the tackle.
Credit where credit is due, the running back shows some really impressive contact balance to keep his feet through multiple tackle attempts and Williamson winds up on the ground. But that’s where the second thing I wanted to highlight comes into play. Back in the first play I mentioned his willingness to tackle a 260-pound tight end as a 205-pound defensive back. Here we see Williamson miss a tackle and wind up on the ground. It would be really easy to take the rest of this play off. Instead, he hustles in pursuit and is able to get in on the tackle to (finally) bring the running back down.
This wasn’t a good play for Minnesota as three separate defenders missed bringing the ball carrier down and he was able to pick up the first down. But Williamson’s quick trigger downhill, hustle, and competitive toughness are all worth highlighting.
Play 4) Minnesota at Purdue
3rd quarter, 2:07, Second-and-10
Later in the game we have another running play with Williamson lined up in the slot.
Once again he shows a willingness to play downhill and get involved in run defense, but what I want to show is him stacking and shedding a block.
Williamson’s job here is, if necessary, to help string out the play to the sideline and prevent the running back from getting the edge. We see Williamson engage with the slot receiver, showing very good physicality in taking on the block. He fires his hands into the receiver, getting inside his framework, establishing leverage and a good base. Williamson is able to use that leverage to turn the receiver and create a path into the backfield. From there, he disengages and sheds the block. Fortunately, the running back was already on the ground by the time he got there, but Williamson was in good position to assist with the tackle or force the play back inside to his teammates.
Play 5) Minnesota at Iowa
Fourth quarter, 8:47, Third-and-6
Finally, while Williamson played a variety of roles for the Minnesota defense, he was still a coverage player. And, as you might have guessed from how he was used in the previous plays, he was at his best near the line of scrimmage.
Williamson is in man coverage and trails a receiver across the field during pre-snap motion on this play. He then sticks with the receiver on a shallow crossing route back across the field, doing well to avoid the traffic in the way. On his way across the field, Williamson has to avoid the slot receiver, MIKE linebacker, and the official in the middle of the field, and still manages to stay reasonably close to his man.
The ball winds up going elsewhere, and Iowa picks up the first down. However, had the quarterback opted for the quick underneath throw, Williamson would have been in position to at least attempt the tackle and force fourth down.
Things to worry about
Play 1) Minnesota vs. Nebraska
Second quarter, 8:48, First-and-10
Back in the first play I highlighted Williamson tackling a 260-pound tight end and praised him for squaring up and driving through the ball carrier to bring him to the ground.
Unfortunately, that was more an exception than the rule, and Williamson can be a maddeningly inconsistent tackler. He has a tendency to not square, get ahead of himself, or otherwise put him out of position to make tackles cleanly. And as a player who is going to have to make his living on special teams and, should he get on the field as a defender, near the line of scrimmage, he is going to be in position to tackle often.
Williamson has the play strength and explosiveness to be an effective tackler — we’ve seen that — but what he needs is to be much more consistent in his form and to put himself in position to make a sound tackle.
Play 2) Minnesota vs. Penn State
Second quarter, 0:38, First-and-10
(NOTE: This tape was cut for Antoine Winfield Jr. Williamson is aligned in the slot on the right side of the defense or offensive left)
I finished off the positive section of this piece by talking about Williamson’s coverage near the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, that drops off quickly further down the field.
In this play we see Williamson in man coverage on the slot receiver and it is just an ugly rep. The receiver catches Williamson flat-footed, running the stem of his route into Williamson before breaking toward the middle of the field. Williamson is unable to keep up and lunges at the receiver, but he is quickly beaten.
Fortunately the quarterback is focused on the matchup down the sideline and doesn’t see the slot uncovering. If he had, there would only have been the deep safety between the receiver and the end zone.
There were a number of plays in which Williamson either reacted slowly in coverage or guessed wrong. If Williamson is able to work his way onto the field as a defender, the Giants are going to be careful to keep him from having to cover down the field.