Jacquian Williams has the raw talent to be the best linebacker on the Giants in 2013.
Williams is a 2011 sixth-round draft pick by Big Blue who has only played in 557 snaps during his two-year NFL career. This is about half of what a three-down linebacker would play in a full regular season.
He also missed six games in 2012 due to a PCL injury. This injury is somehow still bothering him, as he was limited in OTAs this past week, even though he came back from it to play the final four games of last season.
Williams, however, should be the Giants' best linebacker this upcoming season due to his talent and the sad, uncertain state of the other players on the roster at the position.
The 24-year-old’s distinctive quality is his speed. He ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at the South Florida pro day leading up to the 2011 NFL draft. This is a tremendous time for a linebacker. His raw speed translates onto the football field, as Williams is excellent covering ground sideline-to-sideline and can stick with most tight ends and running backs in coverage.
Williams, however, is not yet strong in coverage due to poor instincts. The stats bear this out. In the 2011 regular season, he allowed 78.3 percent of passes completed in his coverage area. A good completion percentage against for a linebacker is between 65 percent and 75 percent.
He improved greatly during the postseason that year, easily his best stretch of football during his short NFL career, as he allowed only 63.6 percent of passes to be completed in his coverage area. His success in this area was short-lived, however, since the completion rate bumped back up to 77.8 percent in 2012.
He also allowed a much higher yards-per-catch average in 2012 compared to 2011. Last season, receivers averaged 12.1 yards per reception in his coverage area compared to 8.9 during the 2011 regular season and 7.9 in the postseason.
While Williams has the necessary speed to be strong in coverage, he is poor at reading and reacting to a receiver’s route. He also has a tendency to focus on the quarterback too much, allowing the receiver enough time to get open.
Williams' speed generally allows him to be strong on deep pass plays (the longest reception he has allowed is only 36 yards) but his poor instincts and bad habit of locking in on the quarterback makes him ineffective on short and intermediate routes.
More experience and snaps should solve these problems, which would make Williams a truly elite coverage linebacker.
The rest of his game is promising as well. He is effective at blitzing, demonstrating good timing and an ability to quickly find the best route to the quarterback. He only has two career sacks, but if he plays a full season as a three-down linebacker, he is capable of registering three to five sacks and numerous quarterback hits and hurries.
His only weakness in the running game is a tendency to get swallowed up on runs between the tackles due to his lack of bulk (he is only 224 pounds). He holds his own in this area, though, by playing more physical than his lean frame would indicate.
Will Jacquian Williams be the best linebacker on the Giants this upcoming season?
If Williams stays healthy, he instantly becomes the Giants' best linebacker, especially with all signs pointing to Mathias Kiwanuka taking a majority of his snaps at defensive end in 2013.
The only other player who surpasses him from a talent standpoint is Keith Rivers. The former first-round pick, however, cannot be counted on because of major health concerns.
Rivers has missed 34 of a possible 80 games in his five NFL seasons due to a variety of injuries. If he somehow plays 16 games for the first time in his career then the Giants suddenly have a serviceable linebacking corps, assuming Williams remains injury-free as well. That's not likely, though, and definitely hard to expect.
The rest of Big Blue’s linebackers are unimpressive to say the least. Dan Connor and Mark Herzlich are both backup quality players, yet one of them will likely start at middle linebacker. Aaron Curry has had a disappointing, injury-filled NFL career despite being the fourth overall pick by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2009 draft.
The remaining players on the unit are undrafted rookies Etienne Sabino and Jake Muasau, as well as Spencer Paysinger, who has proven to be better suited for special teams in his first two seasons.
The state of the Giants linebacking corps is such that a raw player with about a half-season's worth of snaps in his NFL career tops the depth chart. The good news is that Williams has the talent to become a Pro Bowl-quality linebacker. He may not get there this year, but he should be more than adequate if he can get his PCL right and avoid any other significant injuries.
All advanced stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus
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