Film breakdown: Can Giants’ Jarren Williams find a role at safety?

Much concern has developed around the New York Giants’ secondary throughout the 2022 off-season. A one-time strength of the team is now a question mark with young – unproven – talent in a system predicated on man coverage ability. The release of 2020 Pro Bowl cornerback James Bradberry exacerbated these worries.

Giants’ defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson – a holdover from the Joe Judge era – is one of the best coaches at his position in the NFL. Yet, whispers of concern permeate around media and fans with the cornerback and even the safety position.

The Giants’ depth chart at cornerback consists of Adoree’ Jackson and second-year cornerback Aaron Robinson as projected starters on the outside. The nickel-back will likely be a battle between Darnay Holmes and third-round rookie Cor’Dale Flott. The rest of the position are young uncertain players or veterans looking for an opportunity. Rodarius Williams, Jarren Williams, Maurice Canady, and Michael Jacquet are joined by UDFAs Darren Evans (LSU) and Zyon Gilbert (FAU).

Jarren Williams was a 2020 UDFA out of Albany who initially signed with the Arizona Cardinals. He is a 5-foot-10, 187-pound cornerback who supposedly ran a 4.28 40 yard dash at his “mock” pro day; Albany’s pro day was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19. Arizona waived him during the training camp of his rookie season, and the Giants quickly signed him. He did not make the final 53-man roster, but the Giants placed him on their practice squad.

He was elevated to the active roster twice in 2020. Williams injured his quad in the training camp of 2021 and was eventually waived. Again, New York signed him to their practice squad. Williams received his opportunity in week 13 against the Miami Dolphins; after that, he played in every game down the stretch of the season for the 2021 Giants.

Williams played 194 snaps in 2021. He started two games with 18 tackles, a 47.1 percent catch rate on 17 targets with one touchdown allowed and two passes defended. He displayed many traits that led to Henderson’s appreciation and was signed when the new regime took over for Joe Judge and Dave Gettleman.

As you’ll see through this article, Williams is capable of playing cornerback, but the Giants have used him in a different manner through OTAs and minicamp. Williams has aligned at safety in the early parts of the season – something he did not do one time in Patrick Graham’s system. The fact that Williams can play cornerback, and is being tested at safety, is a good sign for the young player.

The Giants are thin at safety with budding star Xavier McKinney and the underrated Julian Love as the prime contributors. New York drafted Iowa’s Dane Belton in the fourth round, and they added two interesting UDFAs in Kentucky’s Yusuf Corker and San Diego State’s Trenton Thompson.

The usage of Williams at safety could be the new coaching staff seeing his adaptability and versatility as a true backend secondary asset, or they may have a real interest in transitioning Williams to a full-time safety role. Nevertheless, this article will look at the 2021 film of Williams at cornerback, since he took zero snaps at safety. Traits can be transferrable between the highly-athletic positions.

I watched all 194 snaps of Williams, and I understand why he has a realistic opportunity to earn a roster spot this summer. Everything wasn’t perfect, but there’s enough talent in this UDFA out of Albany to believe he can crack the roster with a good training camp. Let’s dive into the film.

[Jarren Williams is No. 34]

Awareness/Discipline

Playing safety requires high levels of mental processing, spatial awareness, and the ability to understand and discern angles. Williams displayed these traits at cornerback.

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Williams is aligned head up, outside the numbers, against Michael Gallup (13) in a Cover 2 defense. At the snap, Williams hits the inside shoulder against the outside release and flashes his eyes to see Ezekiel Elliott’s (21) intentions. In Cover 2, Williams has flat responsibility here, so his job is to jam but not ride if a No. 2 receiver enters his area (the flat). Williams does just that; he jams and sinks to initial depth before darting downhill as Dak Prescott (4) turns to throw to Elliott. Williams forces Prescott to extemporize, but he, unfortunately, finds a receiver downfield. Regardless, still a good example of Williams removing a threat and playing within the construct of the defensive coverage.

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Similar two-high coverage with a pre-snap disguise, Williams is to the field this time and sinks to more depth to remove the space in the honey-hole between Williams and safety Xavier McKinney. Williams then stays in the flat to remove the drag route from Dalton Schultz (86). Nothing spectacular here, but Williams displays his overall ability to use patience while routes develop from his backside.

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Against a play-action rollout, Williams is on the backside, and he flips his eyes to the middle of the field upon Schultz running away from Williams. Williams – understanding he has deep third responsibility – gains depth while getting his eyes on Tony Pollard (20) to prevent a play-action rollout screen to the backside. Once he sees Pollard stay in protection, Williams flips his hips, and works underneath the deep crossing route to undercut Amari Cooper (19).

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Williams bites on the play-action a bit, but once he sees Andy Dalton (14) hit his back foot, he flashes his eyes to the backside No. 2 wide receiver Darnell Mooney (11). Williams is a tad late to flip and position himself underneath Mooney, but Dalton misses the open wide receiver and throws an interception to Bradberry (24). In Williams’ defense, he tweaked his hamstring on this play and did not return to the game.

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Dallas aligns in an empty set with a five-man protection package, and Williams is assigned to trap the No. 2 receiver who is the hot read off Logan Ryan’s blitz. Williams’ initial alignment is inside of the No. wide receiver with his hips oriented outward. Prescott is on the far-hash, and the Giants didn’t seem to worry much about the prospects of a deep throw to the #1 WR to the two receiver side due to Williams’s alignment and McKinney’s location between the numbers and the hash, so this was a trap type of coverage on CeeDee Lamb (88). Williams is watching Prescott’s eyes from the get-go, and he baits this throw to a wide receiver who, pre-snap, appeared to have vast inside leverage against McKinney once Ryan came on the blitz. Graham dialed up the pressure – with only four men – to bait Prescott into the trap; no turnover was made, but the Giants prevented Dallas from securing the first down.

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Philadelphia’s exotic rushing attack puts Williams in conflict as Julian Love responds to the play-action attempt from Jalen Hurts (1). Tight end Tyree Jackson (80) holds Williams in place on a 7 (corner) route which allows Dallas Goedert (88) to catch the ball near the numbers from the backfield with 10 yards of distance from Williams. The young cornerback does a solid overall job cutting off Goedert’s angle and making the tackle.

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There is an entire slot section further down the article, but I wanted to put this play in this category. With a reduced stack, Williams does a very good job with his spatial awareness and overall patience to keep the zone concept of this play intact. He expands outside of both inside breaking routes while getting his eyes acquired on Joshua Kelley (27). Williams comes down – doesn’t have a lot of pop on contact, but he does adjust to the inside spin at the catch. Williams holds on, and Kelley eventually falls to the deck.

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Williams does a very good job in this three-deep concept flipping his hips inside and restricting space vertically while squeezing the outside wide receiver towards the sideline. He bails well, moves smoothly, and does a good overall job limiting operating space for the wide receiver.

Defending BUNCH screens

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Williams shows great instincts to recognize this BUNCH screen to Elliott. Williams sees through the trash and beats the Cowboys’ tight end to the spot in order to bring down Elliott before he can secure the football. This is a play made by experienced veterans, and it’s encouraging that Williams showed this type of diagnosing ability.

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Williams is in off-coverage against this BUNCH screen; he does a great job fighting underneath the stalk block and positioning himself outside of the block, which led to a holding penalty. Before the block was initiated, Williams gains a bit of depth to use the sideline to his advantage in restricting space. It was certainly a hold, but Williams also sells it well.

Man coverage

A lot of safeties – specifically in Wink Martindale’s system – are tasked to play man coverage over tight ends and slot receivers when Martindale aligns his nickel back’s in press, right up on the line of scrimmage. This was very common throughout Martindale’s film.

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Against a reduced split, Williams does a good job in press versus DeVante Parker (11). Williams jams the inside portion of Parker’s chest, and Parker uses his strength to fight through the contact and get into his stem. However, Williams does an excellent job latching onto Parker’s hip and staying over the top of the wide receiver throughout his horizontal cross.

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On the goal line against Greg Ward Jr. (84), Williams does a great job jamming Ward Jr. and transitioning his position to match Ward Jr.’s route as he flipped. Ward Jr.’s main goal on this play is to open up space for DeVonta Smith’s (6) flat route; that route is not the responsibility of Williams, who did a good job sticking with Ward Jr. throughout the play. As Williams has control of Ward Jr., I also appreciate how he kept his eyes active; up the stem, he peaks to see Hurts’ intentions and sees if adjacent routes are developing.

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This isn’t Williams’ best rep against Marquise Goodwin (84) on a deep horizontal cross, but he gets his job done. Williams gets no hands on Goodwin – one of the fastest NFL wide receivers even at his advanced age – at the line of scrimmage. Goodwin cleanly releases inside, and Williams is beaten by about two full steps. It takes Dalton a second to recognize that both safeties are covering the crossing route from the backside on the six-man pressure package; Dalton throws the ball late, and Williams does a great job recovering and working through the catch point on a badly placed ball by Dalton.

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Williams key steps outside and stays square to Jalen Reagor (18) as he gets his hands on Reagor upon the inside stem. Williams has safety help with McKinney near the hash, so he assumes the trail position and stays on Reagor through his break and across the field.

Nickel back

“Look at this photograph” – Sorry, so 46 of Williams’ 194 snaps were in the slot, and he possesses the capability of aligning inside. This will be necessary if Williams fully transitions to safety since Martindale frequently rotates safeties down at the snap to play man coverage in pressure packages.

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Williams displays excellent patience against Josh Palmer (5) in man coverage. Williams inches outside to match Palmer’s release while staying square and in a springy position of attack. Palmer pivots inside and attempts to go back outside, but Williams engages and gets his eyes on the quarterback while maintaining positive positional control that wouldn’t draw yellow laundry. Knowing he doesn’t have safety help, Williams works over the top of Palmer off the contact and positions himself in a manner that prevents Palmer from winning downfield. Justin Herbert (10) throws in another direction.

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In this third-and-5 play, Williams does a good job in press against Albert Wilson (2). Wilson engages aggressively using force to create separation on Williams; Williams concedes ground initially but quickly recollects his balance and gets right back on Wilson to remove him as an option.

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Williams does a good job not allowing Palmer’s route to clear him out of his zone, which would open up the backside drag. Williams has a good pre-snap stance; he’s balanced and controlled, and he uses active eyes when he plays. He is aligned over the No. 2 WR. in the 3×1 set; he inches inside, knowing he has a safety that will carry the vertical. Williams matches the No. 3’s release before shooting his eyes inside to see the backside receiver running the drag. He stays in his zone and doesn’t allow space which helped lead to the sack.

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The Chargers are in an EMPTY set, and Williams handles Palmer’s deep crossing route well. The No. 3 receiver releases outside, and Williams closes width once Palmer declares inside, so McKinney has a clean shot against his assignment. Williams does a solid job staying in the hip pocket and on top of Palmer’s route through the play.

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Williams does a good job avoiding the rub route from the Chargers. He shows patience to see what direction Palmer takes his route and then turns into traffic once committing outside. Williams takes a direct path through his teammate and wide receiver to position himself in phase against Palmer against this rub concept. For a young player, Williams displays good overall awareness and ability to not panic when plays are directly scripted against him.

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Wilson attempts to use strength again at his break to create separation against Williams. With a safety in the middle of the field, Williams assumes outside leverage and stays right off the hip of Wilson despite the subtle push off at the break. There’s a little separation, but overall it’s a solid job by Williams.

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Nothing too crazy about this play, but Williams does a good job staying square to his assignment and watching Palmer through his chip block. Once Palmer enters his route, Williams is in his hip pocket.

Negative plays

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This is the lone touchdown surrendered by Williams against Palmer. Against the stack, Williams works outside to match Palmer, but this positions him directly in front of Mike Williams (81). Jarren Williams allows Mike Williams to pass inside and then focuses on his target as he inches outside. Palmer does a good job shimming inside, and Williams orients his hips inside and gets his feet stuck in the mud. Williams’ body isn’t in a great position, and he gets caught with tunnel vision on Herbert as Palmer breaks outside. Williams lost the positioning of his assignment, and the result was a touchdown.

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Williams does a poor job noticing Jimmy Graham’s (88) path on this out-and-up, and it gets the young cornerback tangled up. Williams gets his hips and feet oriented to go downhill on the out route, and Williams does a poor job anticipating the up portion of Graham’s route. Luckily for Williams, Graham stumbles out of his break and the play results in an incompletion. In general, Williams has solid overall transitions; they’re not the smoothest, but they are functional enough to play in the NFL. However, he gets caught on the double move here.

Final thoughts

Williams has a real shot at earning snaps with the current state of the Giants’ secondary. I haven’t seen him play safety, but Martindale successfully converted cornerbacks in the past to play full-time safety; last year, the Ravens selected Brandon Stephans in the third round out of SMU. Stephans transitioned to safety and played 742 snaps, starting 11 games at FS and SS.

Williams could be the Stephans of last season; they are similar in size, and both have the athletic ability and intelligence to be flexible.

In terms of what we saw in Williams’ 2021 film, he can play inside and outside with man coverage athletic ability, and zone awareness that allows him to maximize the defense’s versatility. He’s not the most physical or imposing; or the longest player, but he understands his assignment and does a solid job executing his role, despite his lack of experience and pedigree.

If he can successfully prove himself at safety in training camp, Williams’ chances of making this roster and earning a role drastically increase.

In his limited role last season, Williams impressed; he wasn’t perfect. However, as we labored through the miserable reality of watching the 2021 NY Giants tape; one unfamiliar face on defense flashed, and that was Williams. Can he replicate that limited success at a new position?

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