TEMPE, Ariz. -- One of the Arizona Cardinals' top needs heading into this year’s NFL draft was cornerback and they addressed it in the third round with Brandon Williams from Texas A&M at the 92nd pick.
A year ago, however, Williams wouldn’t have been on the Cardinals’ draft board -- or their radar -- because he was a running back stuck in a log jam. In June, he converted to the defensive side of the ball and drew the Cardinals’ interest because of his ability to stand out against SEC-caliber competition in his first year at the position.
My take: This pick will take some time to evaluate. There are two sides to an initial review of Williams. He addresses a need. Arizona was short on cornerback depth toward the end of last season and now that Jerraud Powers is a free agent, the penciled-in starting cornerbacks are Patrick Peterson and Justin Bethel, another converted corner. Williams has the strength and speed to be an NFL corner, so physically he passes the eye test. But Williams has played cornerback (and defense) for just one season. Granted, he was able to hold his own with 37 tackles and seven pass breakups, while giving himself a ‘C’ grade last season. But Williams is still “raw,” general manager Steve Keim said. He has a significant learning curve ahead of him, not just with learning the Cardinals' scheme -- which Keim said he fits perfectly -- but he’s still picking up the fundamentals of playing the position. He’ll compete with Bethel this summer for the right corner job but may have a long road ahead of him before he has the full complement of tools to be a starting NFL cornerback.
Why Williams will succeed: There are three main reasons why I think Williams will eventually be a successful corner in the NFL. First, he’s fast -- like scary fast. He ran his 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds at the NFL scouting combine and his straight-line speed is even scarier. Second, he’s honest with himself about how difficult the conversion to corner was. “It was super hard,” he said after getting drafted Friday night. ... It’s still hard. I’m still learning.” He understands there’ll be a learning curve in the NFL -- not just adapting to NFL-style schemes but as he continues to learn the position. But Williams said his learning curve will be shorter than most will think. “I’m a fast learner,” he said. The third reason is simple: His “physical tools are off the chart.”
Special teams dynamo: Williams may not -- yet -- be as good of a special teams player as Bethel, who’s a three-time Pro Bowler at the position, but he could soon get there. Coach Bruce Arians said Williams was one of the best special teams players in all of college football last year, and with his speed complementing Bethel at gunner, the Cardinals could have a one of the best cover tandems in the league next year. And that could help flip field position, which leads to better scoring opportunities for the offense.
What’s next: Arizona doesn’t have a seventh-round pick, which was sent to Philadelphia as part of the Matt Barkley trade, leaving them with four picks on the final day of the draft -- one each in the fourth (128) and sixth rounds (205), and two in the fifth (167 and 170). The Cardinals’ biggest needs remaining are at center and quarterback.