The Atlanta Falcons drafted Avery Williams last season to help improve a woeful return game. He selected in the fifth round out of Boise State after leading the nation in kick return yards and finishing third in yards per return on punts.
He was forced into action at cornerback at times because of injuries, and he predictably struggled. At 5’8 with 28-inch arms, Williams isn’t built like an NFL cornerback.
But as a lights-out return man, he’s getting a chance to play running back in Arthur Smith’s offense.
“I think his skillset could translate as a returner – his spatial awareness – and he’s one of the more intelligent players I’ve been lucky enough to coach.” said Smith about Williams. “I didn’t think it would be that hard of a transition and he’s a good athlete that plays well in space. So, I was optimistic about it and I think he’s doing a pretty decent job there.”
Smith isn’t one to talk about individual players at press conferences, even when asked about individual players. He typically says they are working hard and improving and brings the conversation back to the team or the unit.
His comments on Williams almost qualify as gushing for Smith.
Second-year player Feleipe Franks also got work at tight end last season and has been working a lot there as well. Smith was asked if Williams was ready to handle more of a work load, and he answered by talking about several players that have had ‘slash’ roles with the Falcons.
“Yeah. He and Feleipe both, the more they come out here and prove that they can do, then you’re trying to say ‘Hey, let’s push the limits.’ It’s the same thing we did with Patterson or any players we think that can do more,” said Smith before turning the conversation to the team as a whole.
“Like I tell my quarterbacks, I don’t want check-down Charlie,” said Smith. If we can nothing but zone coverage and check down check down, great. Somebody could write, ‘Oh, Mariota, eight-for-eight, great.’ Ridder seven-for-eight, and we just hit check downs – like we’re trying to push it. You’ve got to see that stuff happen in practice.”
Williams has the change of direction and open-field ability that has flashed in practice so far. With the first preseason game against the Detroit Lions just a week away (Friday August 12th), we could see the new Avery Williams being deployed on offense for the first time.