The 2017 NFL Draft was the best in franchise history for the New Orleans Saints. The team netted the 2017 Defensive Rookie of Year with their first-round choice, CB Marshon Lattimore and they added 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year with RB Alvin Kamara, a third-round selection.
New Orleans also drafted perennial Pro Bowl tackle Ryan Ramczyk with their second first-round pick. Besides Kamara, the third round also netted the team two major contributors in DE Trey Hendrickson and LB Alex Anzalone.
Hendrickson and Anzalone departed as free agents this offseason. Lattimore and Ramczyk are both entering the last year of their rookie contracts, but the Saints are expected to make a hard push to re-sign both players.
The 2017 draft has helped build a strong nucleus for a New Orleans team that's won four straight NFC South championships. One player who sometimes gets forgotten in that year's draft haul was their second-round choice that season.
His importance has not been overlooked by the organization, which made keeping him this offseason a top priority.
MARCUS WILLIAMS, SAFETY
Looking to revamp a secondary that had finished last in the NFL against the pass in 2016, the Saints needed a playmaker at safety. With their second-round selection, number 42 overall, New Orleans drafted safety Marcus Williams from the University of Utah.
Williams was a slightly built defender at 6’1 and 195-Lbs., but showed excellent range and ball skills in college. He intercepted 10 passes over his final two seasons at Utah.
WILLIAMS - 2017
Williams was a Day 1 starter at free safety as a rookie. He recorded his first career NFL interception in a Week 3 win at Carolina and would be a stabilizing deep presence for the defense all year.
Williams finished second on the team with 4 interceptions. He broke up 7 passes and finished third on the team with 73 tackles. He joined teammates Lattimore, Kamara, and Ramczyk as members of the 2017 NFL All-Rookie team.
Despite an impressive rookie campaign that included 13 tackles, 3 passes broken up, and an interception in two postseason games, Williams’ first season will be remembered for the play he didn't make.
The Saints held a 24-23 lead on the road at Minnesota during the Divisional Playoff Round. With just ten seconds remaining, Williams missed a tackle on Vikings WR Stefon Diggs, allowing a 61-yard touchdown that sent New Orleans to defeat on the last play.
WILLIAMS - 2018
Many felt that Williams regressed in his second season with the Saints. He still finished the year in a four-way tie for the team lead with 2 interceptions, but was often out of position on deep plays and missed several tackles.
Williams finished with only 3 passes broken up and 59 tackles, but he did record his first career sack. He managed to solidify his play down the stretch for a team that advanced to the NFC Championship Game.
WILLIAMS - 2019
Williams rebounded from a disappointing year to have a solid third season. He’d again lead the defense in interceptions, trying his career-best with 4 picks and scoring his first career touchdown.
Finishing second only to Lattimore on the team with 13 passes broken up, Williams took better angles in coverage but still struggled with missed tackles.
An ankle injury slowed him down the stretch, but Williams still played on 89% of the defensive snaps and missed just one game.
WILLIAMS - 2020
The entire New Orleans secondary struggled early in the 2020 campaign. The unit was responsible for several coverage breakdowns and crucial penalties.
Williams helped solidify the entire defense after the team's Week 6 bye. He tied for the team lead in interceptions, picking off 3 of the Saints league-best 18 interceptions.
Williams broke up 7 passes for a New Orleans defense that ranked fifth against the pass, their highest ranking in that category in eight years.
Williams had made his tackling an offseason priority, and it showed. He was credited for just three missed tackles on the year and played with much smarter angles in pursuit and in coverage.
With his rookie contract expiring at the end of last season, Williams was expected to be one of the most coveted defenders on the free-agent market.
For just the third time in franchise history, the Saints used the franchise tag on a player to prevent them from hitting the open market in free agency. Williams will play on the one-year tag in 2021, counting $10.6 million against the salary cap.
Marcus Williams has as much range as any safety in the NFL. With 13 career interceptions and 30 passes broken up, his instincts and ball skills are a valuable defensive asset.
The 24-year-old Williams could again be a free agent after the 2021 season, unless the team can work out a long-term extension with him this summer.
His ability to shut down the deep ball and make plays in the secondary has allowed the Saints to be more aggressive with their coverage packages.
With questions surrounding the team at cornerback around Lattimore, Williams must provide exemplary coverage support to cover for potential deficiencies at corner.
A big year from their Williams is key for New Orleans success in 2021, and would also mean a big payday for the most underrated player of their 2017 draft class.
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