Time to Perform for P.J. Williams in 2021

After four up-and-down years in New Orleans, P.J. Williams may be counted on to play the best football of his career for a Saints secondary full of questions entering 2021.
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New Orleans Saints defensive back P.J. Williams re-signed with the team this offseason on a one-year deal that counts just over $1 million against the team's salary cap.

It was the third-straight year that Williams signed a one-year contract to remain with the franchise that drafted him.

New Orleans selected Williams out of Florida State in the third-round of the 2015 NFL Draft.  He missed his rookie season with a hamstring injury.

After a promising start to his second year in 2016, a neck injury suffered during a Week 2 loss to the Giants again ended his season.

Since those injury setbacks to start his career, Williams has been consistently durable.

He’s missed only four out of 71 games for the Saints from 2017 to 2020, including postseason.  

His performance on the field, however, has been uneven at best.

WILLIAMS - 2017

New Orleans cornerback P.J. Williams (26) breaks up a pass in the end zone to Rams receiver Sammy Watkins (12). Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans cornerback P.J. Williams (26) breaks up a pass in the end zone to Rams receiver Sammy Watkins (12). Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Williams appeared in every contest for the Saints in 2017, starting six and playing 60% of the team’s defensive snaps. He had 2 interceptions, broke up 9 passes, and recorded 47 tackles.

With 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore locking up one cornerback spot, Williams and Ken Crawley were often the primary targets of opponents on the other side.

The Saints finished 15th in pass defense and 10th in points allowed in 2017. They won the NFC South championship with an 11-5 record, qualifying for their first playoff berth in four years.

WILLIAMS - 2018

New Orleans cornerback P.J. Williams (26) intercepts a pass for a touchdown during the third quarter against Minnesota. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY 

New Orleans cornerback P.J. Williams (26) intercepts a pass for a touchdown during the third quarter against Minnesota. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY 

He was inactive in the opening week, but Williams played every other game of the 2018 season and appeared in 67% of the defensive snaps. He recorded a sack and 2 tackles for loss among his career-high 53 total tackles.

Williams had 1 interception on the year, returning it for a pivotal touchdown in a Week 8 win over Minnesota. He allowed 63.3% completion percentage and 7 scores when targeted in 2018.

His defensive role changed after a mid-season acquisition of CB Eli Apple, as he took on more slot and off-ball coverage responsibilities.

The Saints won their second straight NFC South title and earned the conference’s top seed with a 13-3 record. They finished 29th in pass defense, but 14th in total defense and points allowed.

WILLIAMS - 2019

Saints cornerback P.J. Williams breaks up a pass. © SCOTT CLAUSE/USA TODAY Network

Saints cornerback P.J. Williams breaks up a pass. © SCOTT CLAUSE/USA TODAY Network

With Pro Bowler Marshon Lattimore, Apple, and later Janoris Jenkins, starting as the top corners, Williams was the primary slot corner in 2019. He also transitioned to safety later in the year, providing valuable depth at both positions.

Williams appeared in a career-high 75% of the defensive snaps, despite missing two games at mid-season because of a league suspension. He intercepted 1 pass and broke up four others, while recording a sack and 3 tackles for loss among 44 total stops.

Williams surrendered 65.6% completion percentage and five touchdowns in 2019, getting heavily targeted when he was on the field.

He fared better late in the regular season, when he replaced an injured Marcus Williams at free safety and turned in two impressive performances.

New Orleans won the NFC South for the third consecutive year. They ranked 20th in pass defense and 11th in total defense.

WILLIAMS - 2020

Tampa Bay running back Ronald Jones (27) is tackled by Saints cornerback P.J. Williams (26). Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY

Tampa Bay running back Ronald Jones (27) is tackled by Saints cornerback P.J. Williams (26). Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY

After being inactive for the season opener against Tampa Bay, Williams saw his defensive snaps significantly reduced in 2020 because of a deep and talented secondary.

He appeared in 48% of the defensive snaps, his lowest since missing 14 games in 2016. Williams was much more active on special teams, where he logged a career-high 111 snaps for the unit.

As one of the defensive backfield's most versatile players, Williams filled in at safety, slot corner, and outside cornerback during the year. He gave up 64.7% completion percentage when targeted, but had 1 interception and recovered 2 fumbles while recording 40 tackles.

The Saints were bombarded with injuries on the offensive side in 2020, but were bolstered by the league's fourth-ranked defense after early season struggles.

New Orleans won the NFC South for the fourth consecutive year. They led the NFL with 18 interceptions and ranked 5th in pass defense, their highest ranking since 2013 in that category.

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The Saints have major questions at cornerback entering training camp. They released Janoris Jenkins this offseason to create salary cap space. Lattimore is likely facing a league suspension to start the year stemming from an offseason arrest.

New Orleans spent a third-round draft choice on Stanford CB Paulson Adebo, who is expected to compete for a starting role. Third-year defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, one of the league's best in slot coverage, will also factor more into coverage schemes this season.

The 28-year-old Williams and veteran CB Patrick Robinson may take on more coverage responsibilities this year, especially early in the season.

Both players are heavily targeted by opponents with great success when on the field, but the Saints don't have any proven talent behind them at the position.

Williams’ spot on the roster seems secure. Trading him would save $990,000 in cap space, but outright releasing him wouldn't save the team any money and would create $2.3 million in dead cap space.

Despite his slight build at 6’0” and 190-Lbs., Williams is perhaps the defensive backfield's best tackler. While a liability in man coverage, he possesses good instincts off the ball.

Carolina receiver D.J. Moore (12) is hit after his catch by Saints cornerback P.J. Williams (26). Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina receiver D.J. Moore (12) is hit after his catch by Saints cornerback P.J. Williams (26). Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

His versatility has been an asset to the secondary. The 11 turnovers he’s been involved with shows his playmaking ability - crucial to a team that forced 26 turnovers last season.

Because of the issues New Orleans currently has at cornerback, P.J. Williams may have to play the best football of his career for the Saints to start strong in 2021.


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