Breaking Down Will Fuller and P.J. Williams Preseason Matchup

Will Fuller and P.J. Williams are two young players in the NFL. Fuller is a 22-year old rookie who was taken 21st overall in the 2016 draft. Williams is a 23-year old second-year player who was selected in the third round of the 2015 draft. Neither Fuller or Williams have played a single snap in the regular season, but both are expected to start for their teams this year.

During the second week of preseason, the Houston Texans receiver was matched up with the New Orleans Saints cornerback.

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Williams didn’t follow Fuller around the field. He and fellow cornerback Delvin Breaux allowed the Texans to determine who matched up to Fuller and who matched up to DeAndre Hopkins for the most part. The first drive gave them a few opportunities to go against each other but none that provided material worth evaluating. Either most of the play occurred off screen or the ball was thrown too quickly for the receiver to run a route.

The above gif shows off the first time the offense targeted Fuller with Williams in coverage against him.

Williams plays perfect coverage through the early stages of this route. The gif is stopped at specific points so you can see how the cornerback’s feet work in aggressive man coverage. He mirrors Fuller’s movements with precision, not overcommitting or being late to react to any of his actions. Fuller’s release from the line wasn’t spectacular, it was just a moment of hesitation followed by a move towards the outside. He made it relatively easy for Williams to track him.

The cornerback stays in a good position as Fuller turns downfield, carrying a posture that will allow him to react to any out-breaking routes with good positioning to turn with Fuller if he tries to make a sharp cut infield. Once Williams recognizes that Fuller is working vertically, he uses his inside hand to latch onto the receiver.

Fuller doesn’t make this easy for him though. Fuller is also using his hands, fending off Williams to give himself leverage as he works further downfield.

As the duo approach the five-yard line, Williams is in a great position to stop any pass that is thrown in his direction.

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Williams couldn’t have better positioning on this play. He has played perfect coverage and even though he is beaten, it’s still extremely hard to blame him for getting beaten. Brock Osweiler’s pass is perfectly placed, timed and flighted. More importantly, Fuller’s timing is perfect. Fuller was a polarizing prospect during the draft because he is an inconsistent catcher of the ball who mostly relies on catching it into his body. His big-play ability allowed him to be a first rounder in spite of those drops but it was one of the most widely criticized picks in the whole draft because of his obvious flaws.

Body catching isn’t a death knell for a receiver if you know how to set yourself up to body catch. On this play, Fuller uses his upper body and weight to lean into Williams and bat him away at the perfect time to create a tiny pocket of space.

It’s not offensive pass interference, it’s a subtle but effective bump to prevent Williams from locating the football in the air or attacking it in his grasp.

Fuller scores the touchdown on this play but it should really go down as a positive for both players involved because both showed off positives in their processes.

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The following drive ended with another target directed towards Williams and Fuller. This time Williams took charge of the play and shut Fuller down from the very beginning. The receiver’s release from the line of scrimmage was once again passive. He is going to run a 15-yard in-breaking route. Fuller needs to get on the inside shoulder of the cornerback and press upfield before entering his break to force Williams to leave his comfort zone.

Even though he has to release through the inside, Fuller could have attacked the outside initially try threaten Williams’ outside shoulder. By not making a quick step or turning his shoulders in that direction initially, he allows Williams to easily track him tightly through his whole route.

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Because Fuller’s route has no decisive movements in it, it’s relatively easy for Williams to undercut him and deflect the ball away as the receiver tries to guide it into his chest.

Fuller opened the following drive with a 15-yard reception but the defense was playing zone and he lined up on the opposite side of the field to Williams. It was a relatively simple curl route from the outside against Cover-3 where he caught the ball underneath and ran forward for a first down. Osweiler looked for Fuller two plays later when he ran down the sideline after lining up in the slot. It was a very similar play to his touchdown reception but this time Osweiler’s throw was bad and Williams was able to get on top of Fuller’s route from an off alignment to shut the receiver down.

On the following drive, Fuller caught a 14-yard curl route against one of the Saints backup defensive backs before successive plays put both players into the spotlight.

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Narrow skill set receivers need better service than more versatile receivers. Fuller is a narrow skill set receiver. He needs well placed passes because he’s not going to run precise routes or offer up a wide catch radius. That was highlighted in the above play when he got open against Saints backup cornerback Ken Crawley in the endzone. Even though he is open, this isn’t an easy reception because Osweiler throws the ball too hard and throws it high.

Fuller is able to get his hands to the ball but he is unable to come down with it. Fuller is 6’1″ and appears to have relatively long arms. He can get his hands to these off-target throws, but his chances of bringing the ball in are closer to dropping the ball into a roulette wheel rather than entering a poker hand with a pair of aces.

On the play immediately after this one, Osweiler threw another bad pass in Fuller’s direction. This time Fuller had no chance, but Williams did.

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Williams would have had an interception on the previous drive had Braxton Miller not made an athletic adjustment to tip the ball away from him on an errant Osweiler throw. Miller never had a chance of breaking this one up as Osweiler severely underhtrew a fade route to Fuller in the corner of the endzone. Fuller’s route isn’t really a problem here. This is just a terrible decision and throw from his quarterback.

Fuller isn’t a fade-route receiver at the goalline. His skill set doesn’t boast the traits that do well in those situations. The Texans have very clearly defined roles for their receivers. Hopkins can do everything, but after him Fuller is primarily just a deep threat while Braxton Miller is the gadget option who will hopefully develop into a possession receiver who can consistently move the chains.

Regardless of the failings of the offense, Williams still has to make that play. His awareness and ball skills, not to mention his initial coverage, were all positives.

Part of the reason that Williams fell to the third round of the 2015 draft was his character. Talent-wise, Williams should be a quality starter on the outside. He is long, athletic and shows off good body control to turn and run with receivers without conceding underneath routes too easily. His physicality and balance will allow him to lean on faster receivers while his length and speed will allow him to attack the ball ahead of bigger receivers.

Williams’ presence likely played a big role in the Saints’ decision-making when it came to releasing veteran Keenan Lewis. Lewis had dealt with health issues throughout his time in New Orleans but he was also clearly the team’s most talented cornerback. Not to mention an ideal complement to the other starter, Delvin Breaux, because of his length and athleticism. Williams should seamlessly fit into that role.

Preseason games shouldn’t be overstated in their importance but this game will give both the Texans and Saints reasons to be optimistic about their two new starters.

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