The Cleveland Browns addressed the corner back position twice during the 2014 NFL Draft. With the No. 8 overall pick in the draft they selected Justin Gilbert, who was considered a lock to start across from Joe Haden for the Browns defense this season. They also picked Pierre Desir in the 4th round of the draft with high hopes for him as well. Strangely enough it has been an undersized and undrafted free agent rookie who has been the best addition to the secondary. K’waun Williams from the University of Pittsburgh was invited to Browns rookie camp for a tryout just after the draft last spring. Williams not only made the team, but has materialized into a key contributor in the Browns secondary.
K’waun Williams went to St. Josephs Regional High School in Montvale, NJ., a high school that currently has five players in the NFL. Williams was not offered a scholarship by any other Division I college except for Pittsburgh, where a young assistant coach by the name of Jeff Heftly gave him a chance despite being considered by most to be too small. Five years later, when it came time for NFL teams to invite UDFAs to tryouts after the draft last spring, Heftly was there again. This time he was a member of the Cleveland Browns coaching staff and he was ready to take a shot on Williams again. The Pittsburgh Steelers had invited Williams to try out because they share a facility with The University of Pittsburgh football team and had seen what he could do. However, Williams was ready for a change of scenery and chose to take Heftly up on his invitation to Berea.
There were 35 cornerbacks picked in the 2014 Draft including the two taken by the Browns. Williams knew that he would have to prove himself just to make the team, let alone earn playing time. He has gained the trust and admiration of the Browns coaches quickly and is now a reason why the Browns defense is playing its best football. Williams has impressed his coaches immensely and recently received high praise from his defensive coordinator Jim O’neal. “I don’t get caught up in the No. 8 overall pick stuff,” O’Neil said. “I would say that K’Waun Williams has earned the right to be on the field. I think that you would struggle to find a corner that was drafted this past year playing at a higher level than K’Waun Williams right now. It is just hard to keep K’Waun off the field. He makes plays in critical situations, so he has earned the right to be out there.”
The Browns moved Williams in front of No. 8 draft pick Justin Gilbert on the depth chart just before their game on October 5th in Nashville, against Tennessee. Williams stepped up in big spots registering five tackles and a sack. He was given a game ball by coach Pettine after the Browns comeback win over the Titans that day and hasn’t looked back since. Heftly noticed Williams’ tremendously quick feet and his instinct for the position right away, “I saw his patience at the line of scrimmage and the way he snapped his hands and (got) them on people. It’s so instinctual and it’s so strong and powerful. He’s got a special gift at the line.” O’Neal noticed similar gifts among other aspects to Williams’ game which lead to giving him a shot as the Browns Nickel corner back. “[K’Waun] did a good job at the line of scrimmage,” O’Neil said. “He brought the techniques to the field that we were asking him to do. He challenged. He competed. He practiced well and did a good job in the meeting room.”
Williams has exceptional feet which is key for corner backs, and his ability to pick up Coach Pettine’s scheme has made him integral to the Browns success. Williams is only 5’9″ and 175 lbs. yet possesses a great burst of acceleration which allows him to hit with significant power. He has had to battle through several injuries in his rookie year but has demonstrated mental and physical toughness, relinquishing his spot on the field after he was forced to miss time. K’waun Williams’ quick rise from UDFA to impact player was fortuitous for the Browns. He has proven to be a prominent member of a rising young secondary.
By: Brad Ward
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