Why re-signing Darious Williams was critical for the LA Rams

Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

The LA Rams discovered a few things about their defensive group in the 2020 NFL season that they didn’t know beforehand. First of all, the team reaffirmed that All-Pro Jalen Ramsey is indeed one of the best defensive backs in the NFL today. The team learned that All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald will need some help on the defensive front.

Some have already begun to despair. I’ve read comments about the LA Rams defense ‘not scaring anyone this year’. Well, that is just rehashed silliness from last year. As players migrate out to other teams via free agency, the Rams have kept a solid supply of talent in reserve to backfill the outbound players. Safety Terrell Burgess should be ready to start in 2021, as should NT A’Shawn Robinson.

But the LA Rams simply had nobody to take over the veteran role at outside linebacker who could help the 2021 defense any better than veteran Leonard Floyd.  And the Rams had nobody who could pair up with Ramsey as well as defensive back Darious Williams. You see, Ramsey is so good at what he does, that he forces the quarterback to throw elsewhere. If the Rams do not have the right bookended defensive back

Seeing is believing

To make the point, check out this video profiler of just how good Darious Williams is as the other guy in this defensive, check out this video featuring a detailed analysis of Williams’ ability to cover.  In the breakdown, it’s clear that Williams is playing an aggressive heads-up type of football.  And that is vital because he is one of the smaller effective defensive backs in the league. So how does he compensate for the constant stream of facing bigger receivers?

Darious Williams has mastered the ability to process what is going around him on the football field. He stays close enough to the receiver, waits for the receiver to break for the ball, and simply accelerates to the right position to come between the receiver and the quarterback to make the play. The accolades of Williams play in 2020 proved him to be as good as advertised.

He earned Pro Football Focus’s third-best grade of any defensive back in 2020. He has never surrendered more than 70 passing yards in a single game against him since he entered the NFL in 2018. He had the third-best (well worst for QBs) completing rate against him in 2020.  And he and Jalen Ramsey are excellent compliments to one another in this defense.

Ramsey makes Williams a better player. But it goes both ways in the Rams defense.

Room to grow

The LA Rams plans for cornerback certainly suffered a setback when reports surfaced about Tyrique McGhee’s second violation of the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances. That carries a penalty of a five-game suspension, and it just months after a similar violation suspended him for two months. Beyond McGhee, the Rams roster boasts just David Long Jr. and Dont’e Deayon.

That leaves the Rams short two players short at the position at a minimum, and the team could sign as many as five new cornerbacks between the draft and post-draft signing period to round out the 90 man roster. Thankfully, cornerbacks run deep in the 2021 NFL draft class, and the wild inconsistency of available data and NCAA football in 2020 greatly increases the odds of a diamond-in-the-rough DBs falling to the Rams either during the draft or out of the draft altogether.

The Rams entered the 2020 NFL Draft needing reinforcements for the safety position. The Rams have since added Jordan Fuller, Terrell Burgess, J.R. Reed, and Juju Hughes. Something very similar needs to occur for the Rams at cornerback this year.

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The good news is that the Rams truly have two starters ready to go at cornerback and can theoretically include a standout rookie from training camp into the slot for 2021. Of course, the Rams will need a replacement for Williams in 2022, but one challenge at a time.