26 Jun Syracuse Defensive Back Garrett Williams: From Freshman Star to 2022 1st-round Pick
Star in the Making
Quick flashback to the 2020 college football season, there was a legitimate argument that the Syracuse Orange had the most talented secondary in all of college football highlighted by All-American safety Andre Cisco. Despite not being able to test in the draft process while recovering from a torn ACL during the season, Cisco, a talented defender, would go on to be selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the 65th overall selection in the 3rd round of the 2021 NFL draft.
Cisco wasn’t the only defensive back that heard his name called in the 3rd round, star cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu (brother of Obi) was selected by the Detroit Lions with the 101st overall pick.
It was widely assumed that the Orange would have a third member of their secondary selected during the remainder of the draft, but Trill Williams went undrafted presumably due to a medical issue.
Even with that abundance of talent, it was a redshirt freshman, Garrett Williams, who put together the most dynamic season for Syracuse in 2020.
As the new guy on the block, Williams was the clear-cut “most targeted” defensive back early, trying to take advantage of Williams’ inexperience. Offenses quickly found out that going after #14 was not the best of ideas.
The result: Williams would lead the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in both passes defended (12) and pass breakups (10) during his initial season. That type of production, when given appropriate context, is staggering.
A part of the haphazard COVID-19 ridden 2020 college football season, Williams would take advantage of every opportunity in front of him. The question of who is the best player, in arguably the nation’s top secondary, begins to become a much harder answer to find.
A lightly recruited defensive back coming out of Hickory Ridge High School in North Carolina, Williams had just three Power Five offers coming out. With so much secondary talent already in place, the skinny defensive back took the opportunity to develop, learn and grow in his initial season.
“I was very skinny coming out of high school. I didn’t start getting offers until after my junior season,” Williams explained. “That redshirt year in 2019 was huge for me.”
On top of the physical development, learning from some of the top defensive backs in the country also did wonders for Williams. “Being around guys like they had was a big selling point for me. Syracuse had a great plan for me.”
Aside from his secondary mates being a huge help to him, Williams also credits several NFL players as role models for him as his game continues to develop. He mentioned guys like Denzel Ward (Cleveland Browns), Jeff Gadney (Minnesota Vikings), Jeff Okudah (Detroit Lions), and Jaire Alexander (Green Bay Packers) as the main guys he loves to watch.
The latter brings an interesting parallel to Williams’ game.
“We are both from the same city, both from Charlotte,” Williams explained while talking about Alexander.
When considering all areas of the game, the Jaire Alexander comparison is hard to remove from your mind. A daunting comparison for a player only heading into his second year of full-time college action, the maturity and confidence of Williams are hard to discount.
Already one of the top defensive backs in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Williams now has goals to assert himself amongst the best in all of college football. So what exactly will be the separator for him?
“Trusting my technique every snap,” Williams explained. “The goal is to continue to learn more about what everyone around me is doing and how it all fits.”
With another year of growth in the plans, it is hard not to get excited about what Williams can accomplish. For a player this talented, he continued to reiterate what the real goals were… winning.
“Winning a bowl game is a big one. We know the potential that we have in the program.”
THE EYE IN THE SKY
Quick and agile, Williams excels in short areas, displaying fantastic change of direction skills to stay in phase on top of routes. It’s clear that he can mirror and match early on in reps. Then Williams is challenged vertically, giving evaluators the opportunity to see the caliber of athlete that he is. Here he is forced to turn and run, showing off his vertical speed to remain stride for stride. This will allow Williams to compete on the outside against big-play threats of all shapes and sizes.
Working in his deep third, Williams is able to capitalize on an off-target throw from Trevor Lawrence. While his actual coverage assignment isn’t anything special, good football players have a knack for finding themselves around the football. What he is able to do after the interception is what makes him special. Williams cashes in on a big opportunity, taking the interception back for six. Like they say: big-time players, make big-time plays, in big-time games.
Williams’ click and close is fantastic. Citing Jaire Alexander as one of his biggest influences, it’s easy to see the resemblance in his game. With little wasted movement, Williams is clean out of his pedal, driving on the football for a huge pass breakup. This talent to be sufficient out of his pedal gives Williams the ability to work against smaller wide receiver profiles who win in short areas. This will allow him to potentially work inside-out, presenting himself as a matchup negator.
For a thinner framed cornerback, Williams has no issue getting dirty in the run game. He is a sure tackler in the open field, rarely giving up any big plays in the run game. Here Williams keeps outside contain as the run got strung to the sideline. Williams makes a huge tackle for loss on the Clemson running back, providing a big play for the defense. As he continues to fill out, Williams projects as a plus-run defender who is an asset despite his smaller frame.
The versatile defensive back is a playmaker in the run and pass game. Whether working inside or out, his overall athletic skill set gives him an opportunity to work against wide receivers of varying sizes/play styles.
Overshadowed by a talented upperclassmen-laden secondary in 2020, Williams quickly asserted himself as possibly the best defensive back for the Syracuse Orange. A year earlier, considering that the best defender on Syracuse did not have the last name Cisco or Melifonwu would have been hard to imagine.
Then if someone would have said the last name Williams, Trill would have been the initial thought.
Projecting forward, it’s not crazy to believe that Garrett Williams may be the most outstanding defender to come out of Syracuse in several years. In a talented 2022 cornerback class, Williams is a real player if he chooses to declare.
With another jump in his level of play/production, the 1st round may not be out of the question. When asked about the potential of playing on the next level, Williams’ eyes began to light up with a huge smile on his face.
“It’s been a dream since I started playing football. You see the guys crying when they get picked and just the joy. They see their dreams come true and I can’t wait to feel that.”
An NFL Draft Analyst with extensive credits to his name, Ryan has joined XTB for a special edition series covering the next wave of prospects for the 2022 NFL Draft. Ryan is a former member of the Sports Illustrated affiliated Draft Bible, where his work has been featured on SINow and Bleacher Report. Ryan also co-hosts the NFL Prospects Podcast.