When the Falcons double-dipped on corner in the 2021 NFL draft by taking Avery Williams in the fifth round, some fans were confused. The team had already taken A.J. Terrell the year prior and had Kendall Sheffield and Isaiah Oliver already on the roster.
However, a quick look at his performance on special teams made it clear: this guy was drafted to have an immediate impact on the Falcons punt and kick return units. How did he do in his rookie season? Let’s take a look.
Defense: 7 games, 15 targets, 12 receptions (80%), 109 yards (9.1 y/r), 119.2 passer rating allowed
Special teams: 15 games, 23 kickoff returns, 490 yards (21.3 yards per atempt), long of 38, 20 punt returns, 153 yards (7.7 yards per attempt), long of 23
Rookie year highlights
Week 8 against Carolina: 68.9 PFF coverage score on 22 snaps
Week 13 against Tampa Bay: 1 kick return for 30 yards
Week 14 at Carolina: 1 kick return for 38 yards
Week 15 at San Francisco: 1 punt return for 23 yards
Like fellow draft mate Darren Hall, the plan was never for Williams to play defense in 2021. In fact, the team likely wanted to ease him into playing defense over a few years with him making his most significant contributions on special teams immediately. The injury to Isaiah Oliver thrust him into the lineup initially, though he was quickly supplanted by Darren Hall and Richie Grant as it became clear he just wasn’t ready to get significant snaps as a corner.
His time in coverage was not great. Allowing 80% of your targets to be caught and also allowing a passer rating of 119.2 is a great way to get yourself benched. That said, it’s hard to fault a 5th round rookie for struggling when he was explicitly drafted to be special teamer. He’ll have to make massive strides in the off-season to be a contributor on defense in 2022.
As for special teams, he had an up and down year. The early results were a bit mixed, particularly as a punt returner. He did seem to find his stride later in the season, with the last four games being his most productive. He also saw more time than expected as a kick returner, with Cordarelle Patterson initially being the lead dog there. Williams showed even more promise in this area, averaging 21.3 yards per return for the year. He averaged 26 or more yards per kick return in 5 of his last 6 games with attempts.
So, while his time on defense was entirely forgettable, Avery Williams showed why he could be a fixture on special teams for the next several years given his speed and acumen. He may eventually carve out a role on defense, but his true potential is as a return specialist. In that regard, he did well as a rookie and he has some promise for the future, and should be considered the favorite to hold down both returner roles heading into 2022.