It took a while, quite frankly, for Jarrick Williams to climb the mountain of mastery required to become a steady fixture in a Nick Saban secondary. The highly-touted defensive back prospect took an extended route to playing time as a nickel defensive back and safety, but once there, Williams made the most of his moment in the sun.
Alabama's defense is studded with five-star talent, and Williams' career at Alabama is a study in endurance and the progression of a prospect from raw talent to cultivated performance. Though not as celebrated as his All-American running mate and safety Landon Collins, the Prichard, AL defender showed steady improvement and hopes to earn a spot on an NFL roster next season.
Let us walk down the long and winding road that is Jarrick Williams' career at Alabama...
Like so many other defensive players that man the Crimson Tide roster, Williams was one of the most sought-after prospects in the state of Alabama during his senior campaign at Blount High School (under the tutelage of a former Bama great at safety, Kelvin Sigler.) Williams' skill set and physical measurables (6'1", 215 pounds) were right in the Saban wheelhouse for defensive back recruits, making the homegrown product a very attractive target for the Tide.
An Army All-American, Williams was rated as the number five safety prospect in the nation and number three player overall in Alabama. Rivals labeled him the 83rd ranked player nationally in its Rivals100, to boot. Other services weren't quite as high on Williams' talent, with Scout rating him the eighth best safety in the class and ESPNU placing him at 15th. William was labeled a SuperPrep All-American as well as a member of PrepStar's Dream Team as a senior in 2010. In that last high school campaign, Williams was credited with 75 tackles, which followed a junior season which saw the defensive back post 41 solo tackles, five interceptions, three tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries. That performance earned him 6A All-State honors as the Leopards advanced to the 6A AHSAA state playoffs.
As a sophomore, Williams was equally as impressive, recording 94 tackles, a tackle for loss, two forced fumbles, eight passes broken up, two interceptions and a blocked field goal. In his freshman season at cross-town rival Vigor High School, Williams made 75 tackles with six interceptions. With an impressive slate of high school statistics, it's not hard to see why Bama was not alone in recruiting Williams, as he received offers from Auburn, LSU, Florida, Oklahoma and Florida State.
The Early Years
Because of the lean nature of the Bama secondary during the 2010 season, Jarrick didn't wait long to see the field at the Capstone. Though his participation was measured, Williams played in four games for the Tide, alternating between safety and the "Star" position, Alabama's designation for the nickel (or fifth defensive back.) It was a theme that was repeated throughout his career, as Williams became Alabama's utility player in the secondary, filling in wherever needed when injuries ran amok.
Likewise, Williams saw his work load increase in 2011 if only but slightly, as the defensive back was called upon in seven games of the 2011 championship season, recording only four tackles. During fall camp for the 2012 season, Williams suffered the misfortune of a catastrophic knee injury that postponed his steady progression as a role player in Saban's defense. Because of the timing of the injury, Williams was granted another season of eligibility as a medical redshirt qualifier.
Williams, the Upperclassman
In 2013, with a Tide secondary in shambles due to a lack of depth and a rash of injuries to young players, Williams found himself thrust into the fray coming off of his own substantial injury. Despite the journeyman nature of his previous playing time at Alabama, Williams became cemented as the Tide's go-to nickel defensive back after an injury to Vinnie Sunseri early in the year. Williams played in 12 games that season, but was elevated to a starter for 10 of those contests.
While his statistics weren't mind-blowing, Williams proved a steady contributor in a secondary that struggled mightily against high-powered passing offenses such as the ones fielded by Texas A&M and Ole Miss. He recorded 24 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, a quarterback hurry and two passes broken up. Because of the nature of the star position, Williams was able to put his considerable size for the position to work, rushing the passer in exotic blitz packages and being called upon in run support. Williams earned the first accolades of his collegiate career that year against Mississippi State, when he earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance against the Bulldogs. He also had arguably the best game of his career against the Arkansas Razorbacks, posting six tackles (three solo) and a quarterback hurry.
With a roster still somewhat bereft of veteran talent in the secondary, Williams was called upon as a leader for the Tide defensive backs, alongside Collins and fellow safety/ nickel Nick Perry. While he didn't post the stat line of his previous campaign, Williams remained a steady contributor for the Tide, posting 13 tackles (eight solo), 0.5 tackle for loss and three passes broken up. He was instrumental in knitting together a ragged secondary that ultimately proved to be a liability in the Tide's semi-final match-up with Ohio State.
With NFL size and the pedigree that comes with five years of tutelage under Saban, it would seem Williams is poised for a shot in the NFL following his senior season. While most of the draft buzz has centered around the uber-talented Collins, Williams' business-like approach and physical measurables could help him get his foot in the door as a late-round pick or free agent this April.
While not blazingly fast (Williams was clocked at 4.72 in the 40), the defensive back showed good lateral quickness and closing ability throughout his career at Alabama. He is aggressive and has a natural nose for the ball, and would fit well in a Bama-like defensive scheme for some NFL teams in need of reliable cover men. Williams is currently rated as the 34th ranked strong safety of 160 available in this year's draft by nfldraftscout.com.
If Williams does get a look, he will likely be called to camp as a free agent with an opportunity to prove his worth. There is a chance he could be taken on the third day, but the smart money is on a post-draft FA contract with a team willing to give him a shot.
While not as lauded as Collins or his predecessor Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, Williams was a member of two national championship defenses at Alabama. Though the end of his career is seemingly tarnished by the rough performance of the Alabama secondary in 2013 and 2014, Williams proved himself a leader and helped to steady the Tide's secondary ship while Alabama's young secondary talent is cultivated.