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Shawn Williams’ best football may still be ahead of him

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The sixth-year veteran has always been dependable, but can he make the leap from good to great?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Underrated may not be the appropriate term to describe Bengals safety Shawn Williams, but under-appreciated may be more of an apt description.

Since signing a modest four-year extension just days after his 25th birthday in 2016, Williams has proven himself to be a solid starter and one of the best values on the Bengals roster.

In the time since he emerged into the starter he is now, the Bengals safety room has only gotten better and more crowded around him, but Williams is here to stay and continue being a factor in the Bengals secondary.

Shawn Williams

Age: 27 (Born 5/13/91)

Height: 6’0”

Weight: 210 lbs

College: Georgia

Hometown: Damascus, Georgia

Experience: Sixth year

Cap Status

Williams is two years into his aforementioned deal, which isn’t set to expire until the conclusion of the 2020 league year. His cap hit is just over four million for 2018, and the dead money on his deal dropped from five million last year to 1.2 million this year. It will decrease by $400,000 for the remaining two years beyond this year.


When Williams was drafted in the third-round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Bengals had both of their starting safeties in place in Reggie Nelson and George Iloka. It took two years of grinding on special teams for Williams to see any time on defense.

Eventually, his 2015 season — when he recorded two interceptions and five passes defended in just 44% of the defense’s snaps — made the Bengals confident enough to roll with him and George Iloka, whom they signed to an extension in the 2016 free agency period, while letting Nelson leave for the Oakland Raiders.

In his two full seasons as Iloka’s running mate, Williams has started and played in 26 games while notching four interceptions and eight passes defended. Neither Iloka or Williams were true free or strong safeties under former defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, but Williams primarily played a role as a cover 2/quarters safety who would creep up occasionally as a run defender, something he is much better at than Iloka.

2018 Outlook

In 2017, Williams was a bit banged up and missed five games due to injury, but in the 11 games he did play in, he averaged 74% snap participation, down from 89.5% from 2016 when he was playing healthy. Williams will still be starting in the Bengals secondary, but even if he does reach 16 starts for the first time in his career, his snap percentage may fall somewhere between 2016 and 2017.

Along with Williams, four other safeties are in position to make the roster. There’s Iloka, second-round pick Jessie Bates, special teams ace Clayton Fejedelem, and second-year player Brandon Wilson. If you want to count Josh Shaw as a safety, he’s still in the mix as well.

The safety position is one of the deepest on the roster, and guys like Fejedelem and especially Bates will be featured in some capacity. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin used more three-safety personnel groupings for the Lions than any other team last season, and with the investment the Bengals made in Bates, it’s likely that will transfer down in Cincinnati.

With the addition of Bates, who has the skill set to operate as a centerfield type defender, Williams can be free to work as an overhang defender to matchup against slot receivers and tight ends and work against the run more aggressively while being closer to the line of scrimmage. How this role is divvied up between him and Iloka will be something to monitor in the preseason.

Roster Odds: 99.9%