Joe Judge was a special teams coach with Alabama and the New England Patriots before becoming head coach of the New York Giants. As a rookie head coach in 2020, he made no secret of how important that phase of the game is to him.
Thus, it had to drive him crazy that, while the Giants finished 12th overall in Football Outsiders Special Teams DVOA, there were obvious areas of the Giants’ special teams that were problematic in 2020.
- In kickoff coverage, the Giants were 30th in the NFL with a -7.8 DVOA.
- In kickoff return, the Giants’ -3.4 DVOA placed them 22nd.
- In FO’s ‘Hidden Points’ category, the Giants were 30th, with -14.3 points
Many of the depth signings the Giants made this offseason appeared aimed at providing help, or at least competition, on special teams. Fullback Cullen Gillaspia has been almost exclusively a special teams player throughout his career. Cornerbacks Chris Milton and Joshua Kalu bring vast special teams experience. So does linebacker Ryan Anderson. Ditto, backup running back Devontae Booker.
The message is clear — want to be a reserve player for the New York Giants you had better offer some special teams value.
Which brings us to this week’s NFL Draft Prospect of the Week, Avery Williams of Boise State.
Williams isn’t going to be drafted on Day 1. Or Day 2. Dane Brugler of The Athletic isn’t certain Williams will be drafted at all, listing him with a Round 7/UDFA value in his 2021 NFL Draft Guide.
Williams, though, has to be a player who pulls at Judge’s heartstrings. Why? He might have been the best special teams player in the country over the past couple of seasons.
The 5-foot-8⅜, 187-pound Williams profiles as a player who will likely never be a guy you want playing a lot of defensive snaps, but a player coaches will probably want on the field nearly all of the time on special teams.
A four-year starter at Boise State, Williams was the field cornerback in former defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding’s scheme. He was an elite special teams player for the Broncos, recording nine career touchdowns (five punt returns, three kick returns and one blocked punt return), five blocks (three punts, one field goal, one extra-point) and a forced fumble on kickoff coverage. Williams plays with the competitive make-up and heightened awareness that NFL teams want in their cornerbacks. However, he frequently finds himself trailing or out of phase and allows too many completions on his watch. Overall, Williams lacks desirable length and explosive traits for outside work, but special teams coaches will be pounding the table for him on draft day. His resiliency in nickel and versatility to play running back and star on special teams give him a realistic shot at earning a roster spot.
As a punt returner, Williams averaged 11.6 yards on 82 career punt returns at Boise State. He averaged 27.4 yards on 38 kickoff returns. A former walk-on at Boise State, he is a two-time Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Year.
Williams ran a 4.40 40-yard dash at the Boise State Pro Day, and there has been some discussion on him converting to running back in the NFL. He did running back drills during the Pro Day.
Whether the Giants see Williams as a cornerback or running back, you can bet Judge likely sees him as a guy he would want as part of his special teams units.
Would the Giants use one of their two sixth-round picks on him?