When the Buffalo Bills signed safety Aaron Williams to a long-term deal this offseason it seemed like the work of the same ol' Bills. The organization was about to see another legitimate star, Jairus Byrd, leave Western New York right in the middle of his prime.
The situation is different this time around, because in Williams the team has a player on their roster who's on his way to a breakout season. This is not a name that will surprise Bills fans who watched him play last year, but by the end of 2014 fans outside of Buffalo will know who he is.
The team drafted Williams in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft as a cornerback out of the University of Texas. The first two years in the league was underwhelming for Williams, who battled injuries (he played in only 20 games over that span) and was heading for the "bust" label before last season, according to The Buffalo News' Tim Graham.
The move to safety in 2013 changed a lot of people's perspectives because it highlighted Williams's strengths on the field. He was even ranked the eighth-best player on the roster by WGR 550's Joe Buscaglia.
This year could be even bigger for Williams because he will be moving from the strong safety position, where he was expected to play closer to the line and support the run, to free safety, where he can become more of a playmaker like Byrd.
The fourth-year player really started to show his playmaking ability last year and tied for the team lead with four interceptions. One of his best plays of the year came in a game against Baltimore, when he was actually lined up at cornerback. He intercepted Joe Flacco in the end zone (shown in the picture above). Williams is now certain to have plenty of opportunities to make similar plays at free safety.
Another reason Williams is as successful as he is at safety is he has excellent coverage skills for the position. He actually struggled in coverage as a corner, as Graham wrote, but with the coverage skills he does have he should certainly be considered a good coverage safety.
Against Jacksonville last season he showed both his coverage and playmaking skills when he intercepted Chad Henne early in the first quarter. In the first picture, Williams is lined up about 10 yards off the line of scrimmage and is responsible for tight end Marcedes Lewis, who is running a 10-yard out route on this play.
Williams recognizes this and is able to make the play by undercutting the route and intercepting the ball, as shown in this picture.
The biggest reason that Aaron Williams is expected to really break out in 2014 is his versatility. In this press conference with defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, he talks about how important it is to have safeties who are versatile, who can play up on the line and stop the run or line up and cover a slot receiver or tight end.
Even though Williams will be playing in a new defense under Schwartz, he should be much more comfortable at the safety position because he will have a familiarity he did not have at this time last year.
Add the experience to his playmaking ability, coverage skills and versatility, and 2014 should be a big season for Aaron Williams.