The strong safety in today’s game has to be more versatile than in the past.
Traditionally, this position provided run support by filling a gap between the three linebackers, provided pass coverage of the tight end and played over the top of the cornerback in the 2-deep zone.
Modern NFL offenses line up in both unbalanced and balanced formations, and many now use the pass to set up the run. Many NFL defenses now utilize four linebackers instead of three, meaning the strong safety is more likely to float to the ball on running plays rather than exercise gap responsibility.
In short, the modern strong safety must be as adept at complex pass coverages as he is at stopping the run. While he still must have the strength to handle the tight end, he also needs the athletic ability to stay with a wide receiver, particularly on deeper routes.
Michael “Duke” Williams was born in Monroe, La., but grew up in Reno, Nev. He attended Hug High School, where he also won state titles in basketball and track.
He leaves the University of Nevada, where he majored in criminal justice, after his senior season. If this football gig doesn’t work out for him, he plans to become a police officer.
Weight: 190 lbs.
Arm length: 32 inches
Hand length: 9.75 inches
Solo tackles: 198
Tackles for loss: 14.5 for 52 yards
Forced fumbles: Five
At the NFL scouting combine, Williams posted top-10 numbers among safeties, including the top time in the 20-yard shuttle (4.0). He was fourth in the 40-yard dash (4.48), seventh in the vertical jump (37.5 inches) and sixth in the broad jump (126 inches).
NFL.com ranks him the 13th overall safety and the No. 6 free safety.
CBSSports.com ranks him No. 155 overall and the sixth-best strong safety.
NFLDraftScout.com ranks him No. 153 overall and the sixth-best strong safety, projecting his selection in the fifth round.
DraftTek.com ranks him No. 159 overall and the No. 9 overall safety. He rose 137 places after a good East vs. West Shrine game and NFL Scouting Combine.
Duke Williams took full advantage of his showcase opportunities. Some players tank at all-star games, the NFL Scouting Combine or their school's Pro Day.
Not Duke Williams.
Coming from a lower FBS school out of a smaller market he needed all the exposure he could get. The fact that he seized his opportunities should tell you everything you need to know about his character.
Williams turned up his nose at bigger schools, turning down USC and Boise State to stay in Reno.
He also had a few scrapes with the law, nothing beyond alcohol and motor vehicle infractions, but enough perhaps to make some NFL teams leery.
Worked to fix his image after the mishaps and become a leader in both the locker room and the local community. Nevada athletics beat writer Chris Murray quoted Armon Johnson, a former Nevada hoops star and professional basketball player, as saying of Williams:
He’s done a great job of staying in touch with them and doing public speaking and I’m just so proud of him I can’t even explain it.
The turnaround in his attitude and leadership is definitely something NFL teams will see.
Williams is able to transfer his sprinter’s speed into football speed. He closes extremely well on deep balls and is adept at filling late gaps against the run.
For a sprinter, he is also a big hitter and doesn’t shy away from playing in the box.
His stature is considered slight by NFL standards, but nothing a good strength coach can’t fix.
He also has the ball hawk’s tendency to bite on play action—another trait that can be addressed at the next level.