We continue to look a potential prospects for the Dallas Cowboys in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Name: Damarion Williams
Weight: 182 lbs
Combine Results: 17 bench press reps, 34.5” vertical jump, 118” broad jump
In 2021, the Cowboys defense took an unprecedented jump forward in production under Dan Quinn’s watch, but they’re not done building up that side of the ball just yet. Jourdan Lewis had a solid year as the team’s starting slot cornerback, but he has just two years left on his current contract. Similarly, the safety position isn’t completely set up for the long term. Enter Houston’s Damarion Williams, a cornerback who may fit best as a safety at the next level.
Williams began his college career at JUCO Highland Community College in Kansas. After one season in which he snagged ten interceptions, Williams transferred to Houston where he became an instant starter. Houston’s defense struggled mightily in Williams’ first two years there, but they took a Cowboys-like jump forward this past year, and Williams was a big part of that.
He played an extremely versatile role for the Cougars this past year. Much like the Cowboys, Houston ran man coverage at a very high rate and asked their corners to follow certain receivers. As such, Williams has experience playing both outside corner spots, as well as inside in the slot. He also rotated to safety for a good chunk of his snaps, which offers talent evaluators the opportunity to scout Williams’ fit at a variety of places.
Man Coverage: As mentioned, Houston called a ton of man coverage this past year, and Williams answered the call every time. Williams doesn’t have the size or length to maintain pace with receivers, but he makes up for it with excellent footwork and fluidity in his movements. That made him an asset in the slot, where receivers have more options in their route tree. That, combined with his less-than-ideal height, makes Williams an intriguing option to be a full-time slot cornerback in the NFL.
Zone Coverage: Most of the time that Williams was playing in zone coverage came with him lined up as a safety, and he did not look out of place. Williams’ footwork translates well to him being able to navigate all over his zone, and he displayed clean eyes when reading the quarterback.
Playmaking Ability: Williams has a ballhawk mentality through and through. His ten picks in one year at the JUCO level was evidence of that, although Williams only managed three interceptions in three years at Houston. Still, 20 passes defensed during that time indicates Williams’ ability to get his hands on the ball. He has great closing speed, which again makes up for his size limitations, and understands how to attack at the catch point.
Athleticism: Williams won’t be mistaken for the best athlete on the field, but he definitely isn’t lacking in this area. He’s particularly explosive, and that showed up when he ranked eighth among all corner prospects in both the vertical and broad jumps at the combine. He certainly has the range to be an effective safety in split-safety and deep thirds shells, but faster receivers could give him trouble as a corner in the NFL.
Run Support: Here’s where Williams will make his money, because is a dog. He definitely doesn’t play like he’s 5’10” or under 185 pounds. Williams thrived in the slot especially at Houston because of how unafraid he was to take on, and even initiate, contact. He takes good angles as a tackler and never shies away from his role on running plays. That was evident, too, with how Williams came screaming down from his safety alignments. The big issue, of course, is his size and frame; can Williams still be an effective run defender when he’s coming down against the Derrick Henry’s of the NFL world?
Processing: Between JUCO and Houston, Williams was a four-year starter in college and that’s evident in how well he processes what’s in front of him. He was an excellent pattern-matcher with the Cougars, which requires top-tier processing of route combinations. As a safety, Williams also displayed an ability to read the quarterback and react on time. Learning an NFL playbook shouldn’t be a problem for him.
Intangibles: Williams became a leader for this defense in his senior season when the Cougars made a huge improvement. His willingness to play a wide variety of roles demonstrated his leadership by example. The biggest intangible question for Williams, though, is how his size will hold up in the NFL against bigger and more hard-hitting bodies.
The reason I like Williams as a fit for the Cowboys is because he reminds me - and potentially reminds Quinn - of Damontae Kazee. Coming out of San Diego State, Kazee was a cornerback who played a hybrid role like Williams. Kazee was a ballhawk with a physical streak, despite being 5’10” and 184 pounds. Williams is 5’10” and 182 pounds with similar traits, although his wingspan is a whole foot shorter.
Kazee didn’t light the world on fire last year in Dallas, but he succeeded in Atlanta under Quinn when he played safety and rotated to the slot in certain packages. It wasn’t unlike the role Jayron Kearse - still a free agent as of this writing - played this past year. Williams might need a year to add some mass to his frame, but he seems to have all the traits Quinn looks for despite the size limitations. He could be a target on Day 3 of the draft, which is generally where the Cowboys look to find safeties anyway.