Over the last few weeks, we've been taking an in-depth look at each of the Jets' offseason additions. We continue today with a look at linebacker Avery Williamson.
The 26-year old Williamson is 6'1" and 246 pounds and was a fifth round pick out of Kentucky in 2015. He spent his first four seasons with the Titans, racking up 377 tackles, 11.5 sacks, eight passes defensed, two interceptions and three forced fumbles in 59 starts.
Williamson's role gradually increased over this first two years after being recruited by Kentucky and he enjoyed a breakout campaign in his junior year. His 135 tackles placed him 7th in the nation.
While he had fewer tackles - 102 - in his senior year, he was voted as to the all-SEC second team.
After a good combine, Williamson was drafted in the fifth round by the Tennessee Titans and was pressed into action sooner than expected in his rookie year after an early-season injury to Zach Brown. He eventually beat out Zaviar Gooden for the full-time starting role.
He continued to be productive over the next two seasons, racking up over 100 tackles in each. In 2017, his role changed slightly and his workload reduced as he started to come off the field more on third downs, but he still had 92 tackles.
Williamson's contract with the Jets pays him an average of $7.5 million over three years. He was only offered a shockingly low $12 million over four years from the Titans.
Let's move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Williamson brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.
Williamson has a strong, powerful frame and posted good numbers at the combine. Other than his vertical jump, all of his numbers were at least average and many of them were very good:
Despite this, he has been described as an athlete with limited footspeed that lacked functional strength when he first entered the league.
Williamson has typically been employed as one of the two inside linebackers in the Titans' system. He's mostly lined up in the box, between the tackles, with some, but not many, reps lined up on the edge or matched up with someone in the slot.
In 2017, he started to come off the field more often in passing situations and had his most consistent overall season as a result. Although this meant he was employed in coverage less, it actually had more of an impact on how often he rushed the passer, which basically halved.
Williamson seems to make good reads and diagnose plays well. It's rare that he'll hesitate at the snap or get himself caught inside due to misdirection.
Here's a play where he is able to anticipate the blocker at the second level and get out in front of him to help blow up the run:
There were occasional plays where Williamson bit on a fake or perhaps dropped into coverage on a zone run, but these things didn't happen very often.
Interestingly, when asked about what Williamson brings to the table, Todd Bowles instead opted to talk about Demario Davis and how his ability to read and get ahead of plays, something which had been a weakness in Davis' game in the past.
Bowles suggested that Williamson will operate differently because he can take on blockers more readily, perhaps implying that this was a situation that Davis needed to actively avoid.
Williamson sometimes wore the headset with the Titans, while at other times it was Wesley Woodyard who wore it. Whether he wears it with the Jets likely depends on whether he has a full-time role. If Williamson has more of a two-down role as he did with the Titans last year, then Darron Lee will probably wear it instead, something he's done in the past.
Even if he doesn't wear the dot, Williamson's ability to make good defensive calls and adjustments should ensure good communication on defense.
As noted below, Williamson was one of the most productive run stoppers in the league in 2016:
Avery Williamson has quietly developed into one of the better linebackers in the league against the run pic.twitter.com/Gej7p94zGE— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) July 1, 2017
However, he was even better in 2017, as PFF had him ranked as their second-best inside linebacker against the run.
Here's a good play on which he manages to avoid a cut block to get back to the ball and stuff the run:
Pre-draft scouting reports indicated that his ability to get outside in pursuit might be limited but this doesn't seem to be something that affects him very often. He tends to take good pursuit angles to make up for any deficiency in footspeed.
Williamson is obviously a productive tackler and has the size to stop runners in their tracks. He also closes well on ball carriers and will dive into a pile to minimize yards after contact.
In his career, Williamson has forced three fumbles all of which were over the past two seasons. Two of those were crucial fourth quarter plays with one setting up the winning score and the other, shown below, preserving a narrow win:
Williamson was 3rd, 9th and 5th in the NFL for tackle efficiency in his first three seasons, so missed tackles haven't generally been a problem. However, he did have more last year, dropping to below average in terms of his tackling efficiency.
The majority of his missed tackles over the past two years have come in the passing game:
Williamson's coverage skills have come under criticism at times. He's doesn't look entirely natural when dropping into coverage, but a role where he is mostly limited to underneath zone coverage and can react and close on underneath passes should suit his skill-set.
That's effectively what the Jets did with Davis last year. Even though he was still in a three-down role, Davis was exposed to man coverage situations and isolated in match-ups a lot less than in 2015 and was less of a liability reducing his touchdowns given up from four to two and his yards per target from eight to under six. Williamson made similar improvements last year but more from his reduction in coverage snaps than a change in role.
When exposed to man-to-man assignments, Williamson can look overmatched as you can see below. However, if the Jets faced the Chiefs next year, they'd probably have Lee or Jamal Adams on Travis Kelce here:
Williamson has broken up several passes and intercepted a couple in his NFL career, albeit that both interceptions were opportunistic plays where he was able to snare a deflected pass, one of which is below:
The longest play he was credited with having given up last year was a 54-yard catch and run over the middle by Kendrick Bourne, who was completely uncovered out of the slot on the play. That didn't appear to be Williamson's fault as he had picked up the fullback on the play. It was presumably credited to Williamson because he was the nearest defender to Bourne when he caught the ball. Other than that, Williamson only gave up one other play of more than 25 yards.
Williamson has been pretty consistent in terms of his production as a pass rusher, with at least two sacks each year but no more than 3.5 in any season.
Interestingly, as his number of pass rush attempts was cut in half last year, his pressure numbers remained pretty constant, elevating him from below average in his first three years to in the top ten for inside linebackers pressure percentage.
The majority of his pressure comes from stunts or delayed blitzes up the middle, which capitalizes on his ability to close on and wrap up ball carriers effectively. He missed a couple of potential sacks in 2016, though.
Here's a rare pass rush off the edge. He gets by D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Ryan Fitzpatrick is sacked as he is forced to step up. This was probably more about the element of surprise than Williamson's pass rush abilities, though:
He does show some skill here, though, lining up in the A gap and beating the center for a nice sack:
The Jets need to pair a big, physical linebacker with the undersized Lee to keep him clean and enable him to work in space. In that regard, Williamson should compliment him well.
Here he shows some unselfish physicality, blowing up a run by taking out the pulling lineman in much the same sort of style that Bart Scott used to do for David Harris:
Last year, Dick LeBeau specifically praised how much Williamson had improved his technique in terms of getting off blocks. That was something that was considered a weakness when he entered the league. He also seems to do a better job of navigating through traffic and not getting caught up in the wash these days.
When tackling, Williamson can level some big hits and he will also affect receivers with contact at the line when tasked with doing so.
Williamson has been a disciplined player over the years, with just two penalties in the last three seasons, including none last year. That has to be something that appealed to Bowles after last year's 16 week long flag parade, although Davis only had one himself.
Of those two penalties, one was an unsportsmanlike call for arguing with officials after the tight end blatantly pushed off on a play where he scored a fourth down touchdown. The other was for illegal contact.
He had four in his rookie year for 12 men on the field, illegal contact and defensive holding twice.
Williamson played a lot of special teams in his rookie year, racking up seven tackles in coverage, but hasn't done much since then.
He'll obviously be on the field for extra points and field goals but otherwise only occasionally contributes on the kick return or punt rush units.
Williamson is regarded as a dedicated player that takes pride in knowing his role. The Titans play a 3-4 scheme that shouldn't be too much of a departure from what the Jets do and Williamson already had experience of a defense with NFL-level complexity having played in Mark Stoops' system in Kentucky.
With the Jets, Williamson will slide into the mike linebacker role, which will enable Lee to continue to play the same role as he did last year. Whether Williamson will have a two-down or three-down role remains to be seen, but it seems likely he'll come off the field some of the time, perhaps to be replaced by Kevin Pierre-Louis or a defensive back.
Williamson is regarded as a player with outstanding character on and off the field. He grew up on a farm, where he learned to have a good ethic and is competitive and a popular teammate.
The biggest controversy he's had in his career was over whether or not the NFL were going to let him wear special cleats to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. Local police pledged to pay any fine but in the end he was not fined.
Williamson seems to be a fun-loving character, who will back up his teammates in a scuffle. Here he reacts with anger to Cam Newton's end zone dancing:
Remind you of anyone?
Williamson has shown good durability in his collegiate and pro career. He missed just one game in 2015 due to a hamstring injury. He hasn't been listed on the injury report otherwise.
Davis did a good job last year but Williamson graded out even better than he did in Tennessee and, being three years younger than Davis, hopefully it will be less likely to be an outlier for Williamson.
While Williamson is not that great in coverage, both Davis and Harris had their own such limitations which the Jets were able to mitigate in the past. Just as Davis was less of a liability when moved into the Harris role, Williamson will hopefully benefit similarly from playing Davis' position and the Jets have the personnel flexibility to replace him in obvious passing situations if they see fit.
In terms of the running game, Williamson could produce a big upgrade over the next few years if he can play as well as he has in Tennessee. The fact he was even more effective last year, as they tweaked his role, is even more encouraging.
Williamson is a young, athletic and productive player with playmaking ability who could be another cornerstone piece over the next few years if all goes to plan.