It was clear following the 2015 season that the Cardinals needed to find a starting cornerback to play opposite Patrick Peterson. Jerraud Powers was a free agent, Justin Bethel had not shown enough to convince coaches that he was the long-term answer, and in keeping with his modus operandi, General Manager Steve Keim did not doll out big money for a free agent at the position.
In order to address this need, Keim drafted two cornerbacks – Brandon Williams in the third round, and Harlan Miller in the sixth round – and traded a conditional pick for Marcus Cooper. Cooper ended up starting most of the season, but was utterly inconsistent – making big plays, and giving up more of the same.
Going into 2017, it is clear that the Cardinals are still in need of a quality starter at the position. The question is, how will the Cardinal address the issue? History suggests that Keim will not overpay for a top free agent corner. It is possible one might be signed later in free agency, similar to the signing of Antonio Cromartie in 2014, but there is no guarantee that a quality option will be available at that juncture.
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Though it is possible the Cardinals could draft a cornerback in the early rounds of the 2017 NFL draft, it seems more likely that they will look to find a viable starter among their existing options – something Coach Bruce Arians alluded to at the end of the season. Under this scenario, it is entirely possible that Brandon Williams could end up earning the starting job.
Coming out of Texas A&M University, Williams was the epitome of a project player. He has prototypical size and speed, but had played only one season at corner after making the transition from running back. Williams managed to see some playing during the 2016 campaign, but his lack of experience was evident.
His raw tools are unquestionable. The upper-bound of Williams’ potential is enough to make a scout salivate. The question with Williams is, how steep is the learning curve? If and when Williams puts it all together, the Cardinals could have themselves a solid starting cornerback.
Prediction: Williams’ potential absolutely fascinates me, so I am making my boldest prediction here. Williams capitalizes on the experience he gained in 2016, and continues to improve through training camp. Williams surprises a lot of people by winning the starting job, and holds onto it for years to come.