The New York Jets decimated last year’s atrocious secondary by ridding themselves of three of their four starters: Darrelle Revis, Calvin Pryor and Marcus Gilchrist.
But as some of our staff argued when sorting out this year’s Best of the Jets rankings, nickel cornerbacks count as starters in today’s NFL because they’re on the field so often covering multiple-receiver packages.
Marcus Williams is the only defensive back who played for New York last year that we’ve decided to rank in the team’s top-20. He comes in at No. 18 this year, two slots lower than we ranked him going into last season.
What he did in 2016:
Williams started his third NFL season by recording an interception in each of the Jets’ first two games of the season. In fact, they ended up being his only two picks of the year, but two was enough for him to lead the defense in INTs (tied with Gilchrist).
Williams had the third-most snaps among Jets cornerbacks last year, with 457. That translates to him being on the field about 44 percent of the time. (Revis inexplicably got the most defensive snaps of any Jet with 922, in spite of his poor performance, and Buster Skrine was on the field for 814.)
Williams earned a second-round RFA tender from the Jets during the offseason, and no team felt it was worth it to match that. Still, it shows the organization sees a place in the secondary for Williams going forward.
Last year’s ranking: No. 16
Why he’s ranked lower this year:
Last year we thought we were being conservative ranking Williams 16th. He was coming off a six-interception season that not only led the Jets, but also ranked fifth in the league. However, he was playing in a secondary with Skrine, Antonio Cromartie and a Revis that hadn’t regressed too much yet. He also didn’t have to cover many tough wide receivers that year.
We were right to temper our expectations for him because Williams turned out to be the best of a bad bunch of corners in 2016. Skrine is better at covering receivers on the outside than Williams is, though neither are particularly good at it. Williams didn’t slip off our 2017 list entirely because, once again, the Jets’ roster is just that bad right now.
What to expect in 2017:
Expect Williams to continue to play nickel more often than not with Morris Claiborne replacing Revis on the roster and Skrine still around. The entire secondary should benefit from the arrival of safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye. The early reports out of Florham Park about Adams are insanely promising, and the team doesn’t really have better options than these two for a pair of starting safeties. This ought to mean more protection on the back end for corners like Williams, so he should become more confident in man-to-man coverage.
I’m not saying Williams will ever have another six-pick season like he had in 2015, but I’m not saying he can’t, either. He just turned 26. On this green roster, that counts as being a grizzled vet, but he is just entering his prime. The right conditions could mean the world for his development into a viable starting corner.