Did the Bengals make a mistake drafting Shawn Williams in the third round of the 2013 NFL playoffs, one reader authored in the FanPosts. It's a good question and forces me wonder about the team's third-round picks in recent drafts. For the praise they've received by snatching talent in the fourth round, the third round has recently appeared be the other half of a bi-polar personality. Since Michael Johnson was selected in 2009, the Bengals have used third round selections to grab Jordan Shipley (out of the NFL), Brandon Ghee (constantly injured and now with another team), Dontay Moch (back after stint in Arizona), Mohamed Sanu and Brandon Thompson -- the latter two helping the team course-correct on their third-round picks... for now.
We should point out that making snap judgments on former draft picks, only a year after they were acquired, is too soon. We usually assume that's a perspective from most, but with the offseason, we have too much free time to ponder things that we normally wouldn't. Asking if the Bengals made a mistake drafting Williams is premature.
When the team gathered for rookie minicamp, two weeks after the 2013 NFL draft, it became apparent that Williams had work ahead of him if he were to become the team's starter. "We know what he can do in run support, now we have to see if he can cover," said former Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer following rookie minicamp. "He has the ability to cover, he just has to. He has to work on his technique some. If he gets his body position in good shape, he should be good."
"He kind of feels routes," said assistant defensive backs coach Adam Zimmer. "He sees the quarterback and knows when to break. I've been really impressed with him. I think he's got a chance to be a pretty good player. He's a good enough athlete that if he uses good technique and good eyes and knows who he's going against he can get it done (in coverage)."
Williams was part of a three-man battle during training camp to claim the vacant starting position opposite of Reggie Nelson. Taylor Mays didn't win but George Iloka, a former 2012 fifth-rounder, did. Yet Iloka injured his wrist fighting during practice, giving Williams a shot against the Tennessee Titans in the second preseason game, contributing with 71 percent of the team's defensive snaps and leading the defense with 10 tackles.
"I feel like I improved from the first game. I missed a couple of tackles, but today I think I tackled well," Williams said after the game. "I had 10 tackles, so that’s an area I improved on. I just have to keep getting better each and every week at something."
Williams played in 54 games at Georgia and was one of the best run-stopping safeties in college football. He finished with 98 tackles in 2012 and was named a team captain. In his senior season, he only allowed 16 completions from 62 passes thrown into his area. He has the talent.
Unfortunately, his opportunities ceased once the regular season started. Williams played 11 snaps on defense, ten of which came during the Bengals 40-point blow out over the New York Jets in week eight. With eight of his 11 snaps in coverage, Williams wasn't forced to defend any passes.
The coaches appreciate his personality. Great character, hard worker, Williams will continue to fight to improve. That's him. He's chemistry. Will he one day become a starter on Cincinnati's defense? Maybe. Probably not this year, but that's no excuse not to be ready. If Cincinnati faces a dilemma with injuries, his number could be called. Is he the first backup? Who knows. With Danieal Manning and maybe a draft pick, he faces another training camp battle. He'll fight.
"I do pride myself in being very physical," Williams said last April during his introduction to Cincinnati's media. "That’s the only way I know how to play the game — hard and physical. I just try to put fear in the offense that I’m going against. Put fear in them and make them have to account for me all the time. Make the wide receivers and running backs know that they’re going to get hit. I just try to make a big play."
If you're expecting him to fight for a spot on the 53-man roster, don't. Despite not playing much on defense, Williams played every game last season as a contributor on special teams, leading the Bengals with 14 special teams tackles. His tipped punt against the Cleveland Browns only traveled nine yards and put Cincinnati's offense into premium position to score an eventual touchdown.
So did the Bengals make a mistake with Williams in the third round of the 2013 NFL draft? It's too early to make such judgments but my initial inclination is no.