Cowboys Draft Prospects: Aaron Williams

Next up in our series of potential Cowboys draftees is Texas cornerback Aaron Williams, an early-entry junior who appeared in 37 games in his Longhorn career, including 23 starts in his last 26 games, a particularly impressive tally given the crowded nature of the UT defensive backfield. Williams cracked the starting lineup as a freshman in 2008, and immediately demonstrated playmaking ability. That season, he blocked four punts and returned an interception for an 81-yard score. In 2009, Williams tallied three picks and forced a couple of fumbles. Last year, his game fell off a bit, especially in terms of interceptions; nevertheless, he did force several fumbles and earned second-team All-Big 12 honors.

Although Williams doesn't have the most spectacular statistics, he does possess the numbers NFL scouts look for: at 6-1 and 192 pounds, with a 4.44 forty time, he has prototypical size and speed for the position. In recent years, the Cowboys have expressed keen interest in precisely his profile: size-speed combination guys who, for whatever reason, don’t have the most scintillating tape (and thus will fall a round or two below their athletic ability). At a position where elite athleticism is perhaps more important than any other, this strategy makes a lot of sense, unless you want your beloved ‘Boys to draft a defensive back in the first round every year.

Want to see his athleticism on display? Video of his combine workout can be found here; a draft preview video from FoxSports resides here. Certainly NFL teams have taken note of his impressive toolkit. In addition to the Cowboys, the Falcons, Browns, 49ers and Titans all scheduled visits with the former Longhorn. What do they see in him? Lets take a look at scouting reports from our top Internet gurus after the jump:

National Football Post (Wes Bunting) 9th-rated CB; 77th overall

A long, physically imposing cornerback with great size, impressive length and has the ideal build of a press corner. However, isn't real polished at this stage. Displays natural flexibility and bend when asked to sit into his stance. But, is really leggy in his drop, doesn't stay real compact with his footwork and consistently keep his feet under him. Too often wastes too much motion trying to get out of his breaks when in off coverage and struggles to cleanly/quickly drive on the football. Struggles in off man coverage, will open up his hips prematurely, gets too overextended with his footwork and just is too leggy to quickly click and close on plays in front of him in off man.

Doesn't have a great feel in zone coverage either. Lacks ideal awareness/instincts feeling routes develop around him, seems to drift too far down the field and struggles to quickly click and close. Looks much more impressive once he sees the throw and has the ability to get his long stride going and range on the ball. Displays good ball skills and coordination when asked to track and high point the play. Is an explosive leaper with long arms and is natural in jump ball ability, boxing receivers out and coming down with the pass.

Is at his best up near the line in press man. Showcases good patience on his jam, doesn't get overextended easily into contact and uses his length well to stay engaged. Is a physical guy who consistently is able to re-route receivers off the line and is tough to gain separation from. Still gets too leggy and upright at time through contact, but is physical enough to stick in the receivers back pocket and close on the throw. However, will lose a step when asked to turn and run vertically down the field. Gets too upright and struggles to get up to top-end speed quickly out of his transition. Is a strider with good recovery speed, but will allow receivers to initially get behind him.

Has the ability to mature into a very solid tackler. Is a strong kid with natural bend and great length. Attacks the line of scrimmage with force and isn't afraid to stick his head in. Doesn't consistently decipher information quickly and will take bad angles in pursuit, but the physical makeup is there for him to hold his own and tackle on the outside in the NFL.

Impression
: A tall, long-armed [corner] who can be physical off the line. However, is raw with his footwork, struggles to consistently keep his balance and lacks a great feel in zone. Might need some time, but has the ability to mature into a very good press corner at the next level if he wants to develop at his trade.

The Sporting News (Russ Lande) 8th-rated CB; 96th overall

Strengths: Is a tall, well built and athletic cornerback. Can slow the receiver's release with a strong jam and does not hesitate to keep his hands on the receiver throughout his route. Does a good job of reading the receiver's eyes so that he can get his head around to locate the ball and break up the pass. Has the size, strength and athleticism to be an excellent press corner. Flies up the field on quick screen passes to the receiver behind the line of scrimmage, avoids blockers well and can make a good tackle right after the catch. Has consistently shown the excellent ball skills to break up passes. Is a productive punt returner.

Weaknesses: Is a raw cornerback who seems to rely on his athleticism too much, leading to him not being as productive in coverage as he has the talent to be. Will peek in the backfield and loses focus, which leads to the receiver getting separation from him. Is a little flat-footed on his backpedal, which slows down his ability to plant, drive and close on quick passes in front of him.

Bottom line: Williams is a junior who came out early for the draft after reportedly receiving a good evaluation from the NFL committee. He has good size, athleticism, speed and ball skills to be a solid cornerback at the next level. However, the issue is that he didn't consistently play up to his talent level at Texas and was the Longhorns' No. 3 corner until Chykie Brown broke his forearm in November. While our scouts think Williams will test well at the NFL Combine and his pro day, he could struggle to become a consistent starter.

Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki) top-rated FS; 24th overall

Positives: Has very good size—carries an NFL physique with good press strength at the line to hem receivers. Very good athletic ability. Outstanding body control. Loose hips—pedals smoothly and is quick-footed and agile to mirror. Flashes playmaking ability and makes plays on the ball. Posted a 37 ½-inch vertical leap and broad-jumped 10 feet, 7 inches at the Combine. Strong, secure, open-field tackler. Highly competitive and versatile—can line up in the slot, outside or as a safety. Matched up very well against Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles the past two years and has the agility and short-area burst to blanket quickness in the slot. Has NFL pedigree.

Negatives
: Appeared heavier and a shade slower as a junior. Eyes get caught in the backfield. Can improve route recognition and be more disciplined with his eyes in zone coverage. Was beaten vertically by Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon. Inconsistent footwork and technique in off coverage—loses separation and lacks elite recovery burst to regain positioning at the break point. Could do a better job of discarding blockers vs. the run and does not consistently play big. Did not record an interception as a junior.

Summary
: Looks the part and displays ease of movement and natural cover sills that cannot be taught. However, was victimized more often as a junior, with the absence of Seahawks ’10 first-rounder Earl Thomas noticeably limiting help over the top, and did not play with the same confidence he showed the year before. Could bring immediate help manning the slot but might be best transitioning to center field if he proves he can handle lining up the secondary. Versatility a plus.

ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton) 4th-rated CB; 33rd overall

Instincts/Recognition: Reads and flows with quarterback when drops into zone. Recognizes bubble screens. Mid-points high-low routes and flashes good route recognition skills but highly inconsistent in this area. Gets caught peeking into the backfield. Gets caught guessing too much and vulnerable to double moves. Slow to recognize run when matched up in man coverage.

Cover Skills: Inconsistent but talented and most weaknesses can be improved upon. High in backpedal. Can allow some separation out of breaks and recovery burst is just average. Can give receivers too much of a cushion. To quick to open and turn on comeback routes. Not as physical in press coverage as is in run support and doesn't always reroute receivers with powerful stab at the line of scrimmage. On the other hand, fluid hips. Can open and run with receivers in press bail coverage. Quick feet and changes directions well for size. Closes quickly when receivers catch the ball in front of him and can limit production after the catch.

Ball Skills: Can elevate too early but flashes the ability to high-point in jump ball situations. Gets head turned in time to locate the ball. Can time dive and knock ball down when gets caught in trail position.

Run Support: Plays with an edge and fights off blocks. Effective wrap up tackler that can get bigger ball carriers to the ground. Consistently steps up when teams run at him but could show better effort in pursuit when teams run away from him.

Intangibles: Uncle Ken Taylor played RS/CB in NFL (Chargers and Bears) for two years. Named to Texas Athletic Director's honor roll in spring of 2010.

Like Akwasi Owusu-Ansah last year, and a slew of other size-speed combo guys who have been on Dallas' short list in recent years (Tracy Porter, Charles Godfrey, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Ghee), Williams fits the Cowboys' defensive back prototype like a glove. Several of these guys were drafted lower than their talent might suggest because scouts were uncertain about their best position--a lot of them hovered between corner and safety. I see Williams in much the same light; he was a corner (albeit also a nickel back) at Texas and several scouts have him projected to safety in the pros (note that Nawrocki puts Williams as his top-rated FS). I'm not sure where Dallas sees him fitting in; their interest in him does make me wonder about a couple of interesting possibilities: either he gets a long look at free safety (and I think he could well end up being the best free safety in this draft class) or he takes over the slot corner position, enabling Orlando Scandrick to take the turn at safety that we heard about last offseason before the dearth of corners on the roster kept him at corner.

If the Cowboys want Williams to wear the star, they'll likely need to engage in some draft day derring-doo. All of the teams that have invited him to their training facilities, except Atlanta, pick just in front of the Cowboys at the top of the second round. So, either Dallas would need to trade up or Williams would have to survive a gauntlet of interested parties to make it to Dallas' pick at # 40. Nevertheless, that's where I'm going to slot him; I'll cross my fingers that he, or another first-round talent, falls to that pick.

Next up: Utah CB Brandon Burton

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