When Dan Quinn took over as the Falcons' head coach, a renewed sense of competition swept through Flowery Branch. Players who had thrived under the previous regime needed to reprove themselves; newcomers, especially those with limited exposure, had to earn their keep by exhibiting a fiery mindset on and off the field.
Signed in February, little-known WR Nick Williams—a former undrafted free agent—did just that. Despite his lack of NFL experience, the 24-year-old with only five pro appearances under his belt fared well throughout the spring and summer. It didn't take long for Atlanta's staff to take notice.
And, though the Falcons entered camp deep at receiver, Williams' strong work ethic and reliable hands earned him a spot on the 53-man roster.
"I think it's just the work and mindset that he has. He's one of the best competitors we have," Quinn said. "And that's really how he played his way on to the team, in terms of, 'OK, you're here because of the way you battle and compete.'"
Williams has made the most of his opportunities in 2015 and has developed a reputation as someone who can move the chains. So far he's averaging 10.9 yards per catch, and seven of his nine receptions have gone for first downs.
"The times that we target him, he just seems to come up with first down catch after first down catch," said Quinn. "I think it's that ability to know that when you go over in his direction, he's coming down with it. He is a great competitor."
Williams on Sunday set a career-high with 43 receiving yards on three grabs—two of which resulted in first downs. When Leonard Hankerson left with a hamstring injury, Quinn and Kyle Shanahan opted to give Williams more snaps (33 to be exact), and doing so paid off: All of Matt Ryan's completions to him occurred during Atlanta's two scoring drives.
"Yeah, it's huge," Ryan said of Williams' performance at Nissan Stadium. "In those kinds of situations, when you have guys go down, you have to have that next man up mentality and Nick Williams came in and made a couple huge plays for us in this game. He's been a guy that's been reliable for us the entire year and has done a great job."