FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – It was highly unlikely that Falcons cornerback Avery Williams would be able to play the Miami Dolphins on Sunday afternoon.
Now it's a sure thing.
The rookie cornerback was downgraded from doubtful to out on the Falcons official injury report, the team announced on Saturday afternoon.
He was the first reserve off the sideline after slot cornerback Isaiah Oliver went down for the year in Week 4 and was in the mix to retain that post once he recovered from a hamstring injury. That hasn't happened yet.
Williams will miss his second straight game, leaving the Falcons to look elsewhere for help in sub packages.
They turned to fellow rookies Richie Grant and Darren Hall in the slot in the previous game against the New York Jets and could do so again against the Dolphins.
In other news, the Falcons will make outside linebacker James Vaughters a COVID-19 flex elevation from the practice squad. He could help rush the passer with Dante Fowler on injured reserve. It also indicates that right tackle Kaleb McGary will miss the Miami game on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
The Falcons have also designated linebacker Daren Bates and cornerback Chris Williamson as standard practice squad elevations.
Now, back to our Williams discussion.
According to analytics site Pro Football Focus, Grant played 17 snaps in the slot and 11 more at other positions, recording two tackles while giving up two receptions for 29 yards on three targets.
Hall played 14 snaps at slot cornerback and 17 defensive snaps overall. He had two tackles and allowed two catches on as many targets for 21 yards.
Grant, Hall or anyone else playing in the slot will have their hands full against Miami. No. 6 overall NFL draft pick Jaylen Waddle works primarily from the slot and can be a headache ever for top cornerbacks.
Don't forget that Williams was also the primary punt returner, an explosive presence at that spot. Olamide Zaccheaus could fill in that role, as he did against the Jets.
Fans have been clamoring to see Grant, but the second-round pick from Central Florida had primarily been a special teams player entering the Jets game. A safety by trade, Grant has plenty of experience working in the slot. He did so in college and has practiced at that spot as a Falcon.
"He's not just primarily nickel," head coach Arthur Smith said earlier this week. "He can go back there and play safety. He can drop from anywhere. He can play from anywhere, too. … it was a good first step for him. But again, we'v got a lot of competition. It's a long-term plan. We got veteran safeties in there. We got two young safeties that we like. Got guys on the practice squad that we like. Richie played on special teams. I think it gets overlooked. I mean it's everybody's just fixated, 'Hey, he was drafted high. Ok, I don't see him on defense. They don't see the impact he has on special teams. He doesn't get a lot of, there's nothing flashy about it but Richie's been a pretty good (special) teams player for us, too."
Hall has been active for just two games this season but showed well in his first defensive action.
Replacing Oliver will be really hard. The veteran had an outstanding start to the season. His void creates opportunity for young players to see game action, accelerating their development plan to a certain extent.
Grant has been patient with his role, trying to learn the safety position and its role in Pees' defense. He also worked in the slot and watched Oliver work intently to see how an experienced player handled things.
"Every day I would watch that man. He practices hard. He has great habits," Grant said. "He comes out 15 minutes early. He stayed after practice working with me, giving me tips. I told him I was paying attention and looking for tips because, you never know. It just so happened that I ended up playing nickel [against the Jets]."
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