How K’Waun Williams helps fill a major need in the Denver Broncos’ secondary

San Francisco 49ers defensive back K'Waun Williams (24) before the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Levi's Stadium.
December 19, 2021; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive back K'Waun Williams (24) before the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos have a lot of talented pieces in their secondary, and even a couple of superstars, but up until today, they didn’t have a single nickel-cornerback on the roster who played a snap in 2021.

According to Brandon Krisztal of 850KOA and Mike Kaye of Pro Football Network, the Broncos are preparing to sign K’Waun Williams, a nickel corner who has been a key part of the 49ers’ secondary.

At just $3.5 million a season, Williams comes remarkably cheap considering his high level of play in recent years. The fact that he’s now a cornerback on the wrong side of 30 and that he missed half of the 2020 season with injury explains some of his diminished value, but this still feels like a relative bargain.

Since joining San Francisco in 2017, as a low-level addition, Williams has appeared in 65 of a possible 85 games and played in over 60% of the 49ers’ defensive snaps in all but one of his five seasons.

Aside from being a reliable presence, Williams is sticky and instinctive in coverage. He’s not a man-coverage lockdown stud from the slot, a la Chris Harris Jr. in his prime, but he can hold his own, and he makes up for it with his natural feel in zone. With the Broncos’ being one of the more zone-heavy teams in the league, Williams is a natural fit in the passing game.

He’s also an ideal fit in the run game, which is a requisite. Denver’s defensive scheme places a lot of responsibility on its defensive backs, particularly those in the nickel when it comes to defending the run. Williams’ physicality and gritty demeanor make him a natural fit in that regard as well.

Not only is Williams a terrific player and scheme fit, but he also helps fill what was one of Denver’s more desperate remaining needs.

Previously, the Broncos’ only rostered nickel-corner was Essang Bassey, who spent the entire season rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered late in his 2020, undrafted-rookie, campaign.

Now, Denver has stability at a position that is becoming continuously more valuable, as nickel and dime become continuously more prevalent in the league. While the data for 2021 hasn’t been made available yet, 2019 and 2020 both saw defenses line up in either nickel or dime personnel groupings upwards of 70% of the time.

Plus, in 2021, Ejiro Evero’s Los Angeles Rams played the highest rate of dime coverage. Slot-corner is a starting position in the modern NFL, and the Broncos had no one there, as it isn’t as simple as just taking an outside cornerback and sliding them inside.

They needed to add someone with Williams’ skillset, and frankly still need to add more. This is an excellent first step towards getting Denver’s secondary ready for contention.

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