The Falcons selected Avery Williams, a Boise State cornerback, in the fifth round of the 2021 draft. In his rookie campaign, Williams appeared in 121 defensive snaps but factored more prominently into Atlanta’s ST unit, as he was on the field for 73% of the club’s third team snaps. That included considerable time as a return specialist, as he handled 20 punts and 23 kickoffs.
Neither his limited run as a defensive back (11 completions allowed on 14 targets) nor his efforts as a return man (7.7 yards per return on punts, 21.3 yards per return on kickoffs) generated much excitement. And while he may still compete for return duties, the club is moving Williams from cornerback to running back, as Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com tweets.
The switch is somewhat telling of the team’s belief (or lack thereof) in Williams’ upside as a defender. The Falcons have A.J. Terrell and free agent acquisition Casey Hayward locked in as a strong pair of boundary corners, but there is not much depth behind them, especially since Atlanta did not select a CB in last month’s draft. Although the team re-signed Isaiah Oliver to serve as its top nickel back, Oliver was limited to just four games in 2021 due to a knee injury, and 2021 second-rounder Richie Grant — who saw some time in the slot last year due to Oliver’s injury — is expected to work primarily as a safety in 2022.
Despite that, it appears that 2021 fourth-round selection Darren Hall will have the chance to continue honing his craft as a corner, while Williams will be tasked with carving out a role in a crowded offensive backfield. The Falcons just signed Jeremy McNichols several days ago, and they brought in Damien Williams shortly after free agency opened in March. The club also picked up Tyler Allgeier in the fifth round of this year’s draft and is of course still rostering 2021 revelation Cordarrelle Patterson. Qadree Ollison and Caleb Huntley round out the current RB depth chart.
Patterson is hardly a prototypical back, and he will likely continue to be utilized in a hybrid receiver/running back role. Damien Williams, meanwhile, has only received more than 100 carries in a season once in his seven-year career (not including his 2020 COVID opt-out), and there is a reason McNichols was still available in late May. So there is a chance that Avery Williams can make some headway in a rushing attack that ranked near the bottom of the league in every major statistical category in 2021, but with the sheer number of bodies in Atlanta’s running back room at the moment, it’s difficult to argue that this positional change bodes well for his professional future.