Former UAB standout changes neighborhoods in NFL

Cornerback Darious Williams has gone from the NFL’s best team to its worst this offseason, choosing to sign as a free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars about one month after helping the Los Angeles Rams win Super Bowl LVI.

But Williams has defied conventional thinking before and prospered.

MORE NFL

AL.COM MOCK DRAFT 2: TANKING FOR BRYCE

FORMER AUBURN LINEBACKER SIGNS WITH RAVENS

JAYLEN WADDLE TO TUA TAGOVAILOA’S DOUBTERS: ‘Y’ALL TRIPPING’

With a season of NCAA Division III football experience, Williams joined the UAB football team as a walk-on. In his first year in Birmingham, he played in every game and started five in 2014. Then UAB dropped its football program.

To keep playing, the Blazers with eligibility had to transfer. Williams didn’t.

When UAB’s program returned to the field in 2017, Williams was ready and waiting. He made All-Conference USA, and Pro Football Focus picked him for its All-American team.

Passed over in the 2018 NFL Draft, Williams chose to sign as a rookie free agent with the Baltimore Ravens, which had starting cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Jimmy Smith returning and had just used its first-round draft choice on Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey.

Williams made the regular-season roster, although Baltimore waived him four games into the season when Smith returned from an NFL suspension.

Williams joined the Rams as a waiver claim. He played in only one game for Los Angeles in the 2018 season as the Rams won the NFC championship. In the three seasons since, Williams has been a regular in the Los Angeles secondary.

To win the NFL championship last season, the Rams swept through four postseason opponents. The Jaguars won three games in the entire 2021 season.

Jacksonville defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell said Williams had a reason to choose the Jaguars that went beyond a three-year, $30 million contract, which included a $1.5 million signing bonus and $18 million in guaranteed money.

Williams played football at Creekside High School, about 25 miles from TIAA Bank Field, the Jaguars’ home stadium.

“It’s always exciting to come home and play in a stadium where you grew up watching the team play in or you grew up watching them on TV,” Caldwell said, “but he actually gets to come home and play for and be part of the Jacksonville team, so that’s the most important thing for him. He was excited, his family’s excited, and to go out and play in front of kids you grew up with, your family and they can get to the game easily, that’s exciting for him, and we’re excited to have him.

“He’s a guy that brings a lot of energy. Someone that can go out there and make plays for us. And he’s a homeboy. It helps a lot.”

The Jaguars wanted Williams even though they return their 2021 starting cornerbacks – Shaquill Griffin and Tyson Campbell. Although Jacksonville gave up fewer passing yards than Los Angeles in 2021 (probably a product of the strength of the teams’ rushing defenses), the Jaguars yielded 24 touchdown passes and had seven interceptions and the Rams yielded 17 touchdown passes and had 19 interceptions last season .

Although Williams played primarily on the outside with Los Angeles, he’ll probably get a long look as the nickel corner for the Jaguars. Last season, Tre Herndon was supposed to be Jacksonville’s slot corner, but when he got hurt the Jaguars filled that spot with safety Rudy Ford, a former New Hope High School and Auburn standout. Herndon and Ford also remain on the Jaguars’ roster.

“It has veterans back there and also a little bit of youth,” Caldwell said of Jacksonville’s cornerbacks room, “so it’s going to mix together real well.”

Over the past three seasons, quarterbacks targeting Williams have compiled an 81.25 passing-efficiency rating, completing 111-of-185 passes for 1,335 yards with seven touchdowns and six interceptions.

For most of that time, Williams has lined up across the field from Jalen Ramsey, who was a Pro Bowl cornerback annually and a first-team All-Pro selection the past two seasons.

Caldwell said Williams comes to the Jaguars after going through the fire as quarterbacks tried to throw away from Ramsey.

“Once you’re put to the forefront and it’s your time, they have an all-star corner on the other side and they think they’re going to pick on you on the other side,” Caldwell said, “and you come there and you stand up and you get the stops, that’s something that we’re looking for down here, that he can come in and develop with the others corners we have on the back end. Trying to keep him making plays like he did last year.”

In 14 regular-season games, with 13 starts, Williams made 71 tackles and broke up nine passes in 2021.

In the Rams’ 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI to cap the 2021 NFL season, Williams led Los Angeles with a career-high eight tackles and broke up a pass to complete his fourth season in the NFL.

FOR MORE OF AL.COM‘S COVERAGE OF THE NFL, GO TO OUR NFL PAGE

Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1

Leave a Comment