In recent weeks, Buffalo Bills fans searching desperately for something positive to discuss have seized on the fact that the team's rookie draft class is starting to contribute heavily. In Sunday's loss to the New York Jets, five drafted rookies started: nose tackle Marcell Dareus, cornerback Aaron Williams, linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, safety Da'Norris Searcy and tackle Chris Hairston.
We've seen draft classes contribute heavily before. (Remember Terrance Pennington in 2006?) I'll reserve judgment on the totality of the class, but one player I've been consistently impressed with of late is Williams, the second-round corner out of Texas.
Williams got his starting opportunity thanks largely to the inconsistent play of Leodis McKelvin and the season-ending injury to Terrence McGee. Thus far, he's made the most of it.
Fans have quickly forgotten that coming into April's draft, Williams was fairly widely viewed as a safety. This was a weak year for safety prospects, and some scouts (and when we say scouts, we mean the scouts you read, and not actual scouts) questioned whether or not Williams had the long speed to play corner in the NFL. Many viewed him as a free safety - and when the Bills took Williams No. 34 overall, a small number of Bills fans even questioned whether or not it meant anything for the future of Jairus Byrd.
In Buffalo, however, he'd be a cornerback. The team likes bigger athletes there, and he fit in with their off-season goal of getting better defending the run. (In fact, ESPN's Mel Kiper called Williams the "toughest run support corner" he'd graded in the last five years.) He started the year as a dime back, but was quickly forced into nickel duty when McGee injured his hamstring on the first defensive play of the season.
Williams took his lumps early in the season, and was abused in particular by Wes Welker in the first half of a Week 3 win over New England. He got hurt in that game colliding with a teammate, and didn't return until a November 20 game against Miami. When McGee hurt his knee and was lost for the season, Williams became a member of the starting lineup, and made his top-unit debut Sunday against New York.
Since returning from injury, Williams has looked sharper. Yes, he's still making mistakes; he admitted after the game that he dropped Santonio Holmes in coverage on what proved to be the Jets' game-winning score. Right now, his mistakes are mostly mental, and that's encouraging. What's more encouraging is that watching him play, he looks excellent physically.
They say you can't teach size in basketball. In football, you can't teach size and athleticism. Williams has both - and while he's not the biggest, fastest or strongest, he is a large, aggressive cornerback with great athleticism, especially in the short area. Corners like that are not easy to find; when he's more consistent mentally and technically, Williams is the type of player that will be able to cover a wide variety of receiving options in this league.
Keep in mind, also, that Williams is the youngest player on this team; he won't turn 22 until right around next April's draft. Watching him play over the last two weeks, I have grown genuinely excited about him as a player. If he can lock down the finer points of the game and become consistent, he has the look of a high-end starting cornerback that'll play in the NFL for a long time.