In 2015, Jalen Ramsey was focused on finishing a career at Florida State that was destined to last no longer than three years after the Seminoles had landed the prized five-star high school football and track recruit. Ramsey only finished with three interceptions over 41 career games but he was a consensus All-American that year, along with the likes of Deshaun Watson, Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey and Joey Bosa.
In 2015, Troy Hill went undrafted out of Oregon and he signed a three-year, $1.58 million contract after the draft with the Cincinnati Bengals. Hill made the practice squad and was briefly promoted to the active roster later in the season before being waived and briefly picked up by the New England Patriots. On the final day of the year, he was claimed by the Los Angeles Rams and he remains on the team five years later.
In 2015, Sean McVay was 29 years old and in his second season as offensive coordinator in Washington. Though the team’s rushing offense went to hell, Kirk Cousins led the NFL in completion percentage and established himself as an NFL starter and that was the last time Washington made the postseason.
John Johnson was a junior at Boston College, starting for the first time and turning himself into a prospect who’d be a third round pick of the Rams two years later. A sophomore Taylor Rapp was leading Chris Petersen’s highly-ranked defense at the University of Washington. Brandon Staley was named as a defensive coordinator for the first time, landing the job at John Carroll University. And Jordan Fuller was the Gatorade Player of the Year for New Jersey at Northern Valley Regional High School at Old Tappan.
But Darious Williams, a player who as of now has established himself as the second most dangerous player in LA’s secondary and a verifiable explanation for the Rams have one of the top pass defenses in the league after four games, didn’t even have a football program in 2015.
Williams was a no-star, no-hype, nobody-knows-who-he-is recruit out of Creekside High School in Saint Augustine, Florida in 2013. He first chose to play at D-III Marietta College in Ohio, a plan that lasted one year before returning to Jacksonville for what’s only been described as “family issues.”
At that point, Williams had no football home. He wouldn’t play again for quite a while. William eventually had a walk-on tryout for the University of Alabama-Birmingham and it was over so quickly that Williams assumed he had flunked his chance. He would make the team but then came the moment went UAB didn’t even have a football team anymore.
While all of those Rams above were enjoying the fruits of their hard work in 2015, Darious Williams was wondering if he even had a football program to play for, a small one at that. The type that was on the brink of collapse. Former UAB players who have made the NFL is a short list headed by Roddy White, Bryan Thomas and Joe Webb and from all the background reports I’ve run on players in the league recently, Williams has to qualify as the most “miraculous.”
But 2015 is only when things appeared to come to an end and it’s still taken five years for Williams to emerge as a bonafide starter in the league and potentially an ideal complement to Ramsey in LA’s secondary.
The UAB football program returned and by 2017, Williams had become one of the brightest stars in the country to not play at a power five school. ProFootballFocus highlighted him as a first team All-American and he had made the NFL radar thanks to his length and speed and 26 passes defensed with six interceptions over two seasons.
In typical fashion, the Baltimore Ravens landed Williams after the draft and he made the final 53 man roster, joining a secondary with Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tony Jefferson and Eric Weddle and making it over players such as Darren Waller, Breshad Perriman and Gus Edwards, all of whom were cut in 2018. But the Ravens somehow missed the boat on seeing his long term potential and he was released in October of that year.
The Rams didn’t hesitate to claim him and amid a Super Bowl run, kept him around.
Williams made his debut on LA’s defense in Week 7 against the Atlanta Falcons, recovering a fumble for a touchdown while getting in on 19 snaps. He’d play in 24 snaps the next week but then missed three games with an ankle injury. When Williams returned, he got in work as a full time player on defense over the final three games.
In his first start, he picked off Jimmy Garoppolo.
In his second start, he picked off Kyler Murray.
Williams also had four total passes defensed in those final two games but during the 2020 offseason, it wasn’t clear how McVay and Staley would choose to move the chess pieces around Ramsey. Troy Hill had also seemed to play surprisingly well in 2019 and he had a much more established reputation. Without preseason games and a closed off training camp, the mystery of Williams and Hill and David Long and who would start at nickel or outside remained a case for the NFL Scooby Doo’s out there but now we know that not only does Ramsey have a partner in crime, he may need to do some catching up.
In his fourth start, Williams picked off Carson Wentz, preserving LA’s lead in the third quarter by snatching it away at the goal line.
This is what Carson Wentz saw when he let go of that pass that was intercepted by Darious Williams. The ability to recover for a DB is so, so crucial. pic.twitter.com/sYDbjHh621— Sosa K (@QBsMVP) September 22, 2020
This is the view at the time of the throw. You can see why Wentz made the throw, but Darious Williams made up ground and undercut Arcega-Whiteside.— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) September 20, 2020
Via NGS. pic.twitter.com/GsSDTe2Yj9
In his sixth start, Williams picked off Daniel Jones, this time to seal a win for Los Angeles and to keep them in the hunt during the early stages of a battle for the NFC West. Since he became a starter only seven games ago, Williams has four interceptions and seven passes defensed. Only Pierre Desir of the Indianapolis Colts has more picks in that timeframe, as he had two interceptions in Week 16 of 2019 and two interceptions on Sunday, plus a fifth in between.
The Rams have extended Ramsey, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods recently but what are they going to do about Williams, if anything? He’s set to be a 28 year old restricted free agent next year, so Los Angeles has the option to retain him at a reasonable sum, which seems so likely as to just lock it in right now. The other choice being to see what Williams ends up being worth to other teams depending on how the next 13 weeks go for him and the Rams.
Five years ago, Williams wasn’t even a fantasy within a dream of becoming an NFL player, let alone was anyone aware that one day he’d be a budding 27 year old star for a pass defense ranked in the top three for net yards per pass attempt allowed. In 2015, Williams didn’t even know if he had a defense to play for in college. In 2020, he’s been one of top defenders in the pros.