Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta’amu shredded Vanderbilt’s defense when the teams met last November. Except when targeting one particular Commodores cornerback.
Ta’amu racked up 457 passing yards in his squad’s 36-29 overtime loss, but he was just 6-for-12 for 63 yards and a touchdown on passes thrown in the direction of Joejuan Williams, who at 6-foot-4 and 211 pounds, had a clear size advantage over every member of the Ole Miss receiving corps (save for the injured D.K. Metcalf).
More than any, that game proved why the New England Patriots considered Williams worthy of the 45th overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. He finished it with four pass breakups — including one at the goal line on the game’s final play — plus an end-zone interception:
And the lone score he allowed probably earned DaMarkus Lodge a spot on “SportsCenter.”
Ole Miss star receiver A.J. Brown, whom the Tennessee Titans drafted in the second round last week, torched Vandy for 212 yards and a touchdown on nine catches. But in 17 snaps with Williams in coverage, he managed just two catches on three targets for 38 yards.
Williams’ size and length — rare for a player at his position and unique among current Patriots corners, none of whom are taller than 6-foot-1 — are his greatest attributes. He’s physical and typically excels in press coverage, which New England often employs, and he moves better than the 4.64-second 40 he ran at the NFL Scouting Combine would suggest. (He later ran a 4.55 at his pro day and tested well in agility drills.)
During an early-season loss to Notre Dame, Williams had little trouble keeping up with Miles Boykin, one of the most athletic receivers in this year’s draft class. Williams registered two pass breakups on deep balls, and Boykin finished with one catch for 14 yards.
Williams led the SEC in pass breakups with 14 last season and was tied for second in interceptions with four. His overall tally of 18 passes defended also was tops in the conference.
As for weaknesses, tackling can be an issue for Williams, who too often looks to wrap ball-carriers around the chest rather aiming for their waist or legs and sometimes struggles to separate himself from receivers’ blocks. His physicality in coverage occasionally leads to pass interference penalties. And while many have speculated Williams could be used as a hybrid safety for New England, he very rarely covered tight ends or played inside in college.
That last one is more of a question mark than a weakness, and director of player personnel Nick Caserio said on draft night it’s too early to project which role Williams will play in the Patriots’ defense. (For what it’s worth, Williams said Bill Belichick told him the Pats view him as a corner.)
There’s also a question of consistency. Those dubious of Williams’ NFL bona fides can point to his performance in Vanderbilt’s blowout loss to Georgia, which easily was his worst in the five games we studied for this film review.
Against the Bulldogs, Williams had a tough time covering 2019 fourth-round draft pick Riley Ridley, who beat him for completions of 14 and 15 yards and also made a juggling touchdown catch over the Vandy corner. Later, Williams whiffed while attempting to tackle second-round pick Mecole Hardman, resulting in a big gain, then failed to shed his block as reserve running back James Cook raced past him for a 78-yard touchdown.
On the opening play of Georgia’s second drive, Williams was beaten on a deep post by Terry Godwin, then attempted to strip the ball from Godwin’s hands at the 10-yard line rather than completing the tackle, allowing the wideout to lunge across the goal line for a 75-yard score. Another Bulldogs wideout burned him deep late in the game, but that pass was overthrown.
So, Williams is not a perfect prospect. His college tape has some flaws and fluctuations. He struggled against a Georgia team that boasted multiple highly touted receivers but fared much better against the likes of Brown and Boykin.
During a September loss to South Carolina, he was targeted a mere three times in man coverage. The result: three incompletions with two pass breakups — one on third-and-6 and another in the end zone. Against Florida, he caught a tipped pass for an interception but later botched a jam on third-and-3, gifting the Gators an easy 35-yard touchdown on a quick slant.
Williams will need to smooth out these wrinkles as he adjusts to the NFL game, and he might not be ready to contribute right away. The Patriots have enough depth at cornerback to be patient with the 21-year-old, though, and his enviable physical tools make him an intriguing addition to a Patriots team that values versatility in its defensive backs.
Thumbnail photo via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports Images