FOXBORO — The Patriots made four picks on day three of the NFL draft, and although there were a few surprises based on position, they got four players that should get fans excited.
With the 45th overall pick, the Patriots selected Vanderbilt cornerback Joejuan Williams despite solid depth in the secondary.
A source confirmed reports that the Patriots discussed Williams last night at the end of the first round, but that the Arizona Cardinals were poised to take the Pats’ first selection, N’Keal Harry, at the top of the second round if New England didn’t pounce.
As a result, the Patriots grabbed Harry and traded up in the second round to secure Williams.
The jumbo-sized corner was on the Patriots’ radar the entire process with two private workouts including one with Bill Belichick himself during the pre-draft process.
The Patriots love Williams, and although it wasn’t a need, they took a good football player that they believe in both based on the tape and as a human being.
Here are a few on-field reasons that the Patriots made a point to trade up for Williams:
PRESS COVERAGE TECHNIQUE
A must for all Patriots cornerbacks, Williams is at his best in press-man coverage against bigger-bodied receivers.
Williams has an effective jam and is excellent at staying patient in the early phases of coverage.
Here, Williams is matched up against Notre Dame wide receiver Miles Boykin who is now a member of the Baltimore Ravens. Williams stays patient in his backpedal staying square to Boykin as he releases off the line of scrimmage forcing the wideout to make the first move. Once Boykin releases to the outside, Williams smoothly transitions his hips to run upfield pushing the new Ravens receivers into the boundary using the sideline as an extra defender. With sound positioning in Boykins’ hip pocket, Williams can turn his head to locate the football and knock it away for the pass breakup.
Williams’ patience to trust his technique and not open into a sprint early in the down allowed him to make a play on the ball.
For the first time in a while, the Patriots add a long corner in the draft that has 32.5-inch arms (85th percentile).
Williams’ arm length allows him to challenge receivers at the catch point, and when he does get beat early in the route, he can use that length to recover faster than shorter corners.
On this play, Williams is at the top of the screen one-on-one with the “X” receiver. The receiver initially beats Williams gaining inside leverage, but the new Pats corner is comfortable getting back into the play while trailing when he losses at the line of scrimmage. Williams undercuts the route and uses that length to reach around the receiver to knock the ball away.
Williams’ long arms also help him contest jump balls down the field, but he can break up drive throws by reaching into passing lanes.
CHANGE OF DIRECTION
Williams confirmed rare change of direction skills with a 6.84-second three-cone time at his Pro Day, which is terrific considering his size at 6-4, 211 pounds.
Against Ole Miss, Williams put the straps on new Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown who is a bigger receiver in his own right but also extremely quick.
Here, Williams sticks with Brown on two quick routes in the red zone. Notice how smoothly the six-foot-four Williams sinks and transitions his hips showing off that short-area quickness.
Although Williams won’t cover the Julian Edelman types at the NFL level, he has enough fluidness in his hips to change directions when needed.
ZONE COVERAGE SKILLS
Lastly, we could’ve gone with Williams’ sound tackling here, but let’s focus on one more area in coverage.
As we saw in the Super Bowl, the Patriots are a game-plan defense that, although is usually man heavy, might play more zone coverage if that’s the best way to stop an opponent.
Williams showed excellent ball-hawking skills and instincts as a zone player where his length shows up once again.
On this pass breakup, Williams is the underneath defender in a cover-2 scheme. His job is to carry a go route to 8-10 yards, fill underneath a corner or out route and read the flat. The receiver runs a corner route, and Williams sees that there isn’t a receiver in the flat, so he jumps the corner route nearly intercepting the pass.
Williams’ instincts and ball skills in zone coverage show a great feel for the game that goes beyond the physical traits.