The Falcons have some big ticket free agents this year, but most of their potentially outgoing players are guys who are a lot like Nick Williams: Role players who are uncertain to return.
For today’s free agent profile, let’s look at a man who has held the fifth or sixth receiver job in Atlanta for parts of the last three seasons. Will he do so again in 2018?
Nick Williams has done everything he’s asked to do, and then some. I was amazed when he survived the 2015 season, but he’s now been here for three years and has without fail stepped in to soak up bread crumb-like targets when needed.
Williams is a quick, shifty receiver who can find his way open and seems to do his best work on third downs. We saw his potential value back in 2015, when he got 25 targets and caught nearly 70% of them, plus a couple of scores. If you need a receiver in a pinch, Williams doesn’t have elite size or speed, but can get you contested catches. He’s also a career special teamer who can fill in there whenever he’s called upon, which is why he was surprisingly active so often late this year and in both 2015 and 2016. Basically, he does everything at a reasonable enough level that if injury strikes, you can include him as part of your receiving corps without fearing catastrophe.
What does Nick Williams give you that Marvin Hall or Reggie Davis doesn’t? The answer is not immediately evident.
Hall was somewhat of a mild disaster in his rookie season, as he struggled to get open and struggled to catch the football, but he was an undrafted free agent learning on the job. He and Davis can both be a factor on returns, and both have more upside than Williams, who will be 28 years old in 2018. Williams has also seen diminished target counts in each of his three years in Atlanta, culminating in a 3 catch, 30 yard campaign in 2017. There’s not much upside beyond the 17 catch, 159 yard, two touchdown effort he saw back in 2015.
There’s also the fact that he isn’t exactly an elite special teamer, as we saw when he filled the gunner role at times during this year’s Falcons playoff run. He adds a little bit of everything you look for in a #5 or #6 receiver, but he needs an offensive coordinator interested in integrating him in the offensive gameplan to have any kind of real value.
Even if Williams makes the veteran minimum, I think the Falcons could and should find a younger, cheaper player to fill out the back end of their depth chart at receiver.
The Verdict: No
The Falcons have fallen into the same trap they so often did under Mike Smith, which is carrying far too many receivers who have minimal roles in the offense and can be easily replaced. Williams was a Kyle Shanahan favorite and made some sense as a role player on offense with Shanny, who was willing and able to find a use for him. Under Steve Sarkisian, who rarely found much of a use for him, Williams was little more than a practice squadder and emergency last receiver.
Given the number of men across the NFL who could fit that description, including players in this year’s draft class, I don’t anticipate that Williams will be back. I appreciate the three years he gave Atlanta, though, and I’ll miss the scrappiness.