K’Waun Williams is entering his fifth year with the 49ers. Nobody will argue what he means to the defense. When he’s on the field, good things happen. That was the case last year, as Wiliams had more pass breakups and sacks than the previous two years combined.
The problem? Injuries. Williams missed half of the 2020 season thanks to a high-ankle sprain that seemingly half of the team suffered from. What most don’t remember was Williams being suspended for two games while he was injured for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Williams turned 30 on Monday. History hasn’t been kind to cornerbacks that reach 30, as success stories for cornerbacks on this side of 30 remain outliers.
When Williams was sidelined last year, Jamar Taylor and Dontae Johnson manned the slot. The 49ers invested in two cornerbacks late in the draft. Playing nickel cornerback in the NFL is hard enough, so expecting a rookie to come in and do what K’Waun can is a tall task.
Age: 30 (Birthday was July 12)
Experience: Six accrued seasons
Weight: 183 lbs
Williams's market had to be minimal, as he signed a one-year deal with $1.1 million guaranteed. This is likely the last year we see Williams on the roster unless he plays at a level where San Francisco has no other option to bring him back.
Why he might regress in 2021
Williams ‘19 season was stellar and was always going to be tough to top. He needed another strong season to earn a bigger contract, but with COVID and revenue lost, players like Williams suffered the most.
Williams was a top-5 slot cornerback in 2019. To regain that title, he has to stay on the field. When he’s on the field, good things happen for the Niners. The ball finds K’Waun, who is one of the best run defenders on the team and fights through blocks like a linebacker.
Unless Father Time suddenly catches up to Williams, it’s tough to see him having a bad season considering his style of play. He has to stay on the field. That’s it.
What to expect in 2021
Williams might be the biggest beneficiary of a new defensive coordinator. If DeMeco Ryans is as aggressive as we anticipate, expect K’Waun to live in the opponent's backfield by inserting himself into an open gap or blitzing off the edge.
Remember his interception in 2019 when Mason Rudolph was running for his life and threw it right to Williams? I could see more of that happening in 2021 with the return of Nick Bosa and an improved pass-rush. The secondary can sit on routes knowing the pass rush will get home.
Williams is one of the more fun players to watch on this defense and serves as the “glue” guy who holds everything together. There isn’t a situation where K’Waun isn’t involved, which is why it’s tough to imagine there not being a drop-off in case Williams isn’t on the field.