Injuries have decimated the Falcons secondary in recent weeks. Casey Hayward remains on the injured reserve after injuring his shoulder, which might require surgery and potentially cost him the rest of the season. AJ Terrell tweaked his hamstring a couple of weeks ago and aggravated it against the Bengals. The All-Pro is considered week-to-week but is likely out this week against the Panthers. Starting safety Jaylinn Hawkins suffered a concussion against Cincinnati, which means Dean Marlowe will likely get the start Sunday. Mike Ford and Dee Alford are also nicked up, and the Falcons suddenly have an emergency on the backend of the defense.
Arthur Smith’s answer? Potentially moving Avery Williams back to defense.
Arthur Smith said he was "very close" to putting Avery Williams in on defense not just last week but the week before against San Francisco, too.
Called it a "valuable roster spot" because of Avery Williams versatility as a return man, RB and DB.
— Tori McElhaney (@tori_mcelhaney) October 26, 2022
The Falcons secondary is so depleted that the coaching staff is considering putting Williams, who has been a returner and running back this season, on defense. Coming out of college, the Boise State product played cornerback and was one of the best returners in college football. His prowess on special teams has carried over to Sundays too.
At this point, Williams is leading the league in punt return yards average (20.6), and the next closest returner, KaVontae Turpin, is averaging more than four yards less per return. He’s been excellent in that facet, but he’s not just limited to the third phase of the game. After being drafted in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL draft, Williams played sparingly for Dean Pees last season, only earning snaps via injuries ahead of him on the depth chart. And now, he’s playing snaps on offense.
It isn’t really that unheard of for a player to make this transition, especially for someone as talented with the ball in their hands as Williams. Before he even played a snap, I floated the idea of the former Boise State Bronco contributing in all three phases of the game.
The shortest route to seeing to the field is special teams, but Williams can develop into a decent cornerback in the future or possibly act as a gadget type of player for the offense. It isn’t outside the realm of possibility for him to contribute in all three phases. Jamal Agnew had a similar role in Detroit, where he played cornerback, wide receiver, and returned punts. I could see a similar career trajectory for Williams.
Now he might be forced to give the Falcons snaps on defense because of injuries. It’s fantastic the Falcons have players with this kind of versatility, but I must admit, I’d rather have the team go out and sign a veteran like Janoris Jenkins or AJ Bouye to add depth to the cornerback room. I doubt we see Williams on defense unless a string of injuries tears through the secondary against the Panthers, but it would be incredible to see him play a game with snaps on offense, defense, and special teams.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire