The Falcons coaching staff has preached all season long about having the “next man up” mentality. Nick Williams rose to that challenge last week and as a result, earned this week’s Featured Falcon Friday spotlight.
With Atlanta missing their top two receivers, a new face would have to emerge for at least one week. The likely suspects — Taylor Gabriel, Aldrick Robinson, and Justin Hardy — each contributed in the Falcons’ win over the Rams.
But little did we expect, the team’s leader in receptions last Sunday was practice squad call-up Nick Williams. Surely, we all must be thinking, “where did this scrappy, little receiver come from?”
Like Gabriel and Robinson, Nick Williams is another Kyle Shanahan carryover, having played for the Falcons’ play caller in Washington. He went undrafted in 2013 out of Connecticut, but still managed to earn a roster spot on the Redskins.
Williams, however, failed to make the team in 2014 after Washington brought in a new coaching staff. With Shanahan out of the picture, Nick Williams sat out the entire season and waited for his next chance.
He wouldn’t have to wait long as that call came the very next year when Kyle Shanahan became the offensive coordinator of the Falcons. Thanks to a receiving corps in flux, Williams made the Falcons’ opening day roster as their primary slot receiver.
He would finish the 2015 season with 17 receptions for 159 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games of action.
Much like his stay in Washington, though, Nick Williams found himself a victim of the numbers game in year two with Atlanta. The Falcons overhauled their receiver depth chart in the offseason, and a new number two, three and four receiver came with it.
As a result, Williams began the 2016 season on the practice squad. But just like a good reliever in baseball, the third year vet stayed ready for his next opportunity.
It’s that kind of grit and toughness that Dan Quinn looks for in each of his players. Instead of evaluating a player on the boxscore, the coaching staff adopted a competitive and toughness (CT) scale.
Williams oozes these qualities, which is the primary reason he has stuck in Atlanta for as long as he has. The other reason, which was on display on Sunday, is his superior route running skills.
The shifty receiver laid Rams’ defenders to waste on multiple occasions in his season debut. And if not for a concussion suffered in the third quarter, his stat line may have looked even better.
The injury setback may once again move Nick Williams to the back of the line. But thanks to his high grade on the CT chart, the 26-year old wide receiver figures to play a role in the organization’s future plans.