Rookie cornerback Darrent Williams, who has started nine games for the Denver Broncos and established himself as one of the top first-year defenders in the league, could miss the balance of the season with a groin injury sustained in Sunday's win over the Ravens.
The second-round pick underwent an MRI examination Monday for what was diagnosed as a strained right groin and, while results were not yet available, it is believed Williams has at least a small tear. Williams will miss at least two weeks and could be sidelined substantially longer, perhaps for six weeks.
Under that worst-case scenario, Williams, who has lent stability and playmaker skills at the right cornerback spot and teamed with veteran Champ Bailey to provide Denver an excellent coverage tandem, would not return until around the time of the AFC title game. Fellow rookie Domonique Foxworth, a third-round choice who has logged considerable playing time, will replace Williams at right cornerback.
Williams, 23, has appeared in 12 games and started nine, and has recorded 49 tackles, one sack, two interceptions, 10 passes defensed and a forced fumble. His play, along with that of Foxworth, moved them ahead of veteran cornerback Lenny Walls, who was subsequently released.
The Broncos have squandered plenty of high-round draft choices on cornerbacks under head coach Mike Shanahan, but seem to have gotten two outstanding young players in Williams and Foxworth. The two have bolstered a secondary that has performed better than its No. 29 statistical ranking versus the pass. Denver also drafted a third cornerback, Karl Paymah, in the third round.
In addition to his play at cornerback, Williams has returned 18 kickoffs for an average of 23.9 yards and has an 8.7-yard average on 17 punt returns.
The former Oklahoma State standout was injured Sunday while making a tackle on the opening kickoff of the victory over the Ravens, continued to play, and then aggravated the groin injury on a subsequent kickoff return. He did not play at all in the second half of the contest. Groin injuries are particularly difficult for cornerbacks, even without a tear involved, because of the change of direction and accelerations skills that the position demands.
Receiver Charlie Adams will take over the bulk of Williams'
"Anytime you lose a starter, you wish it didn't happen,"
coach Mike Shanahan said. "But it gives another guy an opportunity to go out
and show what he can do."
Denver can secure a playoff berth with a victory at Buffalo on Saturday and there are several scenarios under which the Broncos can clinch a division title this weekend.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.