Avery Williams' transition from defensive back to running back didn't come out of no where. It's been something Arthur Smith has hinted at since Williams was drafted last year, saying then he could see him having a role on offense one day. Then, Cordarrelle Patterson happened, and Smith and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone talked at length over the last year about how Patterson's vision and spatial awareness as a return man translated to the success they saw him have at running back.
In fact, it was around the mid-way point of the 2021 season (when Patterson was having his most success) that Smith told Williams he foresees him making the transition to running back in 2022. Williams has the vision and spatial awareness needed to do so, too.
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So, the conversation happened and that was... it. No muss. No fuss. It made sense to make this move in the same way it made sense why Patterson succeeded in doing so. There are so many skillsets that translate from being a solid return man to being a trusted running back.
"I didn't bat an eye. I didn't hesitate," Williams said when Smith told him the plan. "I believe in my coach 100 percent."
And Smith believes in Williams, too.
"He's one of the most intelligent players that I've been lucky enough to coach," Smith said.
So, yeah, this has been a pretty seamless transition. A no-brainer, if you will.
The thing about Williams' role, though, is that we should be talking about his continued growth as a return man in the same way we talk about his potential in the backfield. Since the moment he was drafted, the Falcons felt his main role was to help this organization within the scope of special teams. It's just an added bonus that he can help offensively.
While playing running back is something Williams has a certain comfort in (having played the position in high school and a little bit in college) he knows where his home is, and he has goals he wants to achieve via his already-established special teams role.
"I want to be one of the top returners in the league, and not only a top returner, but I want to be one of the top special teams players in the league," Williams said.
Sure, Williams wants to "help this team be an explosive offense this year," but with Patterson, Damien Williams, Qadree Ollison and Tyler Allgeier making up the running back room, he's not naive to the role he may (or may not) play.
What's interesting, though, is that Williams has been used in various ways across the offense already. Smith values players with versatile skillsets. So, it's not uncommon to see Williams set up in the slot, or catching a pass from Desmond Ridder out of the backfield.
These are all recent developments, too. And as the days of training camp continue, so does the responsibility added to Williams' plate on the offense.
Smith said it's something the coaching staff is doing with Feleipe Franks, too. As Williams was added to the offensive lineup, so was Franks, but as a tight end, not a quarterback. Smith said the time is now - during training camp - to see what this staff has within these individual transitions.
"If we think they can perform," Smith said, "we'll try it out here."
For Williams, he said he's still getting acclimated to the "football intelligence" side of transitioning from defense to offense, but it's been a good type of challenge.
Make no mistake about it, though, Williams' transition from defensive back to running back isn't the main reason you should care about his skillset. Yes, it's an interesting storyline, but it's not one that hasn't been hinted at since he got to Atlanta. It has, and now it's a reality, but Williams is still at his best when a punt lands in his hands.
With the flash and fun of a running back transition, don't forget his special teams prowess is why the Falcons valued Williams from the jump.
Getting stronger and working harder as we continue into Week Two of AT&T Training Camp!