On the same day Seattle lost Byron Maxwell to the Eagles, the Eagles lost Cary Williams to Seattle. Cary will be getting $6M APY, and the exact details of the deal are over on Davis Hsu's post. Based on a quick glance at the contracts being signed today, that money is fair for a low-end starter. Which begs the question, how good is Cary Williams?
If you know just one or two Eagles fans, you've probably been exposed to a fair amount of Cary bashing. Just about anyone from Philly would tell you that Williams is a long ways from a low end starter. They're not alone in that assessment, either. Stephen White, a former NFL player, current SBN writer, and all around excellent twitter follow, had this reaction to the Cary contract:
I know the Seahawks need a corner, but damn man how does Carey Williams keep rolling sevens with his film?!— Stephen White (@sgw94) March 10, 2015
It's a great question, lets take a look at the film to get an answer.
At 6'1, Cary Williams is on the bigger side of spectrum for cornerbacks. With that size, Williams has sometimes been criticized for his ability to cover quick, short breaking routes. However, I think this criticism is a bit misplaced. Williams was infrequently challenged with these routes, and when he was he handled them well.
On this play, Terrence Williams gets a clean release and runs a quick slant. Cary isn't quick enough to prevent the short catch, but he does keep himself in position to make the tackle and prevent any YAC.
This isn't excellent coverage by Cary, but it's a difficult play to make against a receiver lined up off the LOS. Limiting YAC is all that can be asked in this situation, and it's something that Williams does well both in this play and in others.
In the above play, Cary fights through a block to force an incompletion on a bubble screen. On the play below, Williams comes up from his deep zone responsibilities to keep Randall Cobb from gaining additional yards.
Cary shouldn't be expected to shut down the short game, but he should be more than capable to do exactly what the Seattle coaches will ask of him: keep receivers from getting extra yards on short passes. All that isn't to say that Williams doesn't struggle with a lack of quickness. This weakness is most apparent when Cary attacked with intermediate routes.
On this play, Williams is playing off coverage and doesn't disrupt the route. OBJ is running a deep out, and doesn't need to do much more than shade his stem inside before breaking outside in order to lose Williams.
Here, Williams allows an inside release and, while he doesn't get a jam at the line, he is able to get his hands on OBJ in his route. It's not enough to slow OBJ though, and he's left in the dust on the inside breaking route.
OBJ is going to get his, but these are rough plays by Williams. These intermediate routes, where Williams is forced into his backpedal before changing directions, really highlight the quickness issues that many have complained about. It's not, however, a fatal flaw. Carroll and co. likely expect to be able to mask these issues with scheme.
From the eternally helpful Trojan Football Analysis breakdown of the 4-3 under:
No matter what coverage you are playing you have to convince your players to win their leverage side. If the coach tells a player to play outside leverage and complains when a receiver catches a ball to his inside, the coach is wrong. When we give them a leverage side, we are telling them to just do that aspect right at least.
To take this even further for example we tell our corners to play inside leverage (i.e. to the inside shoulder of the receiver) in this defense. This helps the corner avoid giving up the big play to the inside of the field. If you want them to play the out route towards the sideline you have to give them someone playing support over the top. There is not a corner in college or the NFL that can both play the out routes and also avoid giving up the deep ball to the inside.
In the two plays above, you can see that Williams is not being asked to consistently play inside or outside leverage. Instead, he is being asked to read and react. Coaching him in this way only exacerbates Williams' weaknesses on what are already very difficult plays. For reference, here is Richard Sherman covering the same inside breaking route:
Sherm doesn't win inside leverage and ends up in the same position as Williams. Sherm's coverage is much tighter (he's the best corner in the league, after all) but he gives up a completion all the same.
On deep routes, receivers are usually looking to get outside leverage and run the red line. The red line, for those not familiar, is an imaginary line that runs down the field halfway between the numbers and the sideline. These plays are great examples of situations Williams is likely to find himself in as a Seahawk.
As a corner, your goal in these situations is to run the receiver off of the red line and force him completely out of bounds if possible. You want your corner to do pretty much exactly what Cary does in this play.
More often than not, a corner is not going to be able to disrupt a receiver's route this drastically. A corner needs to be able to take a trail position behind the receiver, turn their head, use a short burst of speed to close and break up passes at the point of the catch.
Just like that. Williams uses his hands to disrupt OBJ and negate his speed advantage. At the same time, he reads the receivers head and gets turned around to be in a position to break up any pass. This is an especially difficult play, as the timing of the pass is off and the receiver looks to separate a second time. Williams is able to stick with the play and break up the deep pass.
Unfortunately, these two plays are mostly just proof of concept with Williams.
On this play, Cary loses his balance on a botched jam and allows Hilton to get wide open over the top. Doug Farrar provided a different example of Williams failing to jam his man at the line, this time losing purely to quickness.
You can read Farrar's entire write up of the signing here.
Here, Williams struggles to get his head around and locate the ball against a physical receiver. (It should be mentioned that this is an excellent play by Hopkins.)
And here, Williams does a great job of running the receiver off the red line only to be beaten by a faster player.
The last two plays are concerning. Williams plays his man the way he will be coached to by Seattle, but he gives up the big play anyways. Carroll and Richard will look to minimize the situations where Williams is in off coverage, and the Seahawks' excellent linebacking group will help minimize the damage from inside breaking cuts. But if Williams is not able to successfully press and locate balls from a trail position, he's likely to be a liability.
Williams is a 30 year old, seven year veteran who needs to learn a few new tricks. Williams also has a reputation for being... spirited. When you read most of those stories, you can't help but think he's the perfect fit for the LOB. But there are also times where Williams has missed OTAs, openly questioned his coaches, and called for lighter practices. I'll let you decide how big of an issue those are, but they should be considered if you are expecting Williams to continue to grow as a player.
In the end, Williams is a relatively low risk player with some obvious warts but also some very real upside at a position of need for Seattle. The big question comes down to coaching, and we've seen this group work wonders time and time again. There is little reason to think that Cary won't contend for the starting job opposite Sherm. He may even excel there.