The New England Patriots have certainly found a way to power through the issue with their six Super Bowl titles and all, but it’s safe to say they’ve had mixed results selecting defensive backs early in the draft.
That’s been especially true since 2013 when they hit on Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon in the third round. Since then, they’ve taken safety Jordan Richards and cornerbacks Cyrus Jones, Duke Dawson and Joejuan Williams all in the second round.
Richards lasted three years before New England traded him to the Atlanta Falcons. The Patriots cut Jones after his third summer with the team. Dawson looks like he’s on the wrong side of the roster bubble as a second-year player.
But early returns are positive on Williams, who, at 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, has rare size for the position.
Williams struggled a bit during spring practices with the Patriots but has rebounded well this summer. He picked off two passes in training camp and finished third on the team with eight pass breakups — the same amount as All-Pro Stephon Gilmore.
Williams leads the Patriots in defensive snaps with 92 through two preseason games. He’s let up just two catches on seven targets for 18 yards with two pass breakups. He was especially impressive Saturday night against the Tennessee Titans when he was tasked to cover Titans receiver Corey Davis for most of the first half.
Williams had both of his breakups over Davis and didn’t allow a catch to the 2017 top-five pick. Davis caught six passes on eight targets for 98 yards with a touchdown against Gilmore in a game last season.
Williams forced a punt on the Titans’ first drive of the game when he stuck to Davis like glue on a curl route. Williams overpowered Davis and used his length to wrap his right arm around the Titans receiver to swat away the ball.
You can watch the deflection here.
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel challenged the play, believing Williams had interfered with Davis, but the play stood as called.
Williams’ next breakup came midway through the first quarter. Davis ran a deep out route, and Williams used his freaky agility to stay with the Titans wideout despite some nifty footwork.
Williams again used his impressive length while diving toward Davis and sticking his right arm between the receiver’s hands and the football. As Davis fell to the ground, Williams was able to dislodge the ball.
You can watch that play here.
Williams wasn’t the only rookie to show up Saturday night.
— Quarterback Jarrett Stidham nearly threw a pick-six early in the third quarter, but he bounced back and was extremely accurate overall. His deep touchdown pass to Damoun Patterson was a thing of beauty.
— Wide receiver Jakobi Meyers has ridiculous footwork off the snap. He caught six passes on six targets for 82 yards.
— Defensive lineman Byron Cowart wasn’t known as a pass rusher coming out of Maryland, but he bullied guard Rodger Saffold for a sack on the opening drive of the game.
— Punter Jake Bailey did this.
— Guard Hjalte Froholdt was called for holding twice but let up just one hurry all game. Undrafted offensive linemen Tyler Gauthier and Martez Ivey didn’t allow any pressures.
— Cornerback Ken Webster contributed on a tackle for loss with safety Malik Gant. Webster wasn’t targeted in the passing game.
— Outside of the rookies, left tackle Isaiah Wynn was perfect in pass protection. That’s a good sign for Wynn, who was 366 days out from tearing his Achilles.