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Shawn Williams tabbed Bengals’ secret superstar by PFF

The hard-hitting safety has grown into a solid defender for the Bengals.

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals have one of the better safety tandems in the NFL.

Much of the attention there is paid to George Iloka, who’s become a star in this defense over the course of his five-year career. However, Shawn Williams has also grown into a quality safety that’s becoming a bigger household name.

Williams is getting more national attention thanks to Pro Football Focus tabbing him the Bengals’ secret superstar entering the 2017 season:

Shawn Williams

2016 snaps: 912

Key stat: Played 89.5 percent of defensive snaps in 2016 having played just 50.6 percent the season before.

The Bengals raised some eyebrows when they allowed Reggie Nelson to leave and break up an impressive safety tandem with George Iloka, but Williams was able to step into that void and continue his impressive play from the year before on more snaps. Williams notched 14 total pressures on the blitz, 19 defensive stops and was able to make some plays in coverage even if he was at fault for three touchdowns over the season.

For the majority of his college and early NFL career, Williams resembled more of a hard-hitting strong safety who could lay the big hit and put fear into any receiver coming across the middle.

But Williams has improved his pass-coverage abilities to the point he ended up getting significant playing time at both safety spots during the 2015 season whenever Iloka or Reggie Nelson were out. Williams finished that season with career-highs in tackles (32), pass deflections (5) and interceptions (2).

That earned him a four-year contract extension last offseason that will keep him under contract through the 2020 season. It’s also paying him just $5 million on average annually, which is very good value for a good starting safety.

Williams continued to play well in 2016 following the extension, finishing with a career-high 81 tackles and three interceptions to go with five pass deflections and his first career sack. He also finished as Pro Football Focus’ 33rd-ranked safety out of 90 eligible players. It’s worth noting that the guy Williams replaced was Nelson, who finished 29th in this ranking.

It’s great to see Williams is finally getting some well-earned recognition. And at just 26 years old, there’s plenty of reason to think he’ll only continue to get better over the course of his career with the Bengals, which looks like will be a long and productive one.