clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

10 Biggest Questions: Can Joshua Williams or Jaylen Watson expand their roles?

What can Kansas City expect from these second-year cornerbacks?

NFL: Super Bowl LVII-Kansas City Chiefs vs Philadelphia Eagles Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the Kansas City Chiefs' season, I'm continuing my "10 Biggest Questions" series about the team. So far, we've covered:

This week, we turn to the Chiefs' cornerback room.

Does either Joshua Williams or Jaylen Watson expand their role?

Last season, the Chiefs overhauled their entire cornerback room. After L'Jarius Sneed, the three cornerbacks with the highest snap counts were rookies: Trent McDuffie, Jaylen Watson and Joshua Williams. While Kansas City had traded up to get McDuffie in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, Watson and Williams were more impressive finds.

Watson was one of the Chiefs' three seventh-round picks. There were questions about the former Washington State cornerback's athletic profile and how well it would translate to the league. Williams — a fourth-round pick from Fayetteville State — displayed top-tier length and traits but was thought to need development.

While neither of these Day-3 players was expected to contribute immediately, both exceeded expectations right away — so much so that the team felt comfortable trading fourth-year cornerback Rashad Fenton to the Atlanta Falcons at the trade deadline. The Kansas City front office and coaching staff deserve credit for finding these two players — and developing them so quickly.

Once McDuffie had returned from six weeks on injured reserve (which happened in the Week 8 game against the Tennessee Titans), the Chiefs were able to rotate the other two cornerbacks into the lineup as needed, depending on each week's matchups and which one was playing better. Sneed and McDuffie (and either Watson or Williams) proved to be a group of three competent cornerbacks.

Throughout the season, Watson played 53% of the defensive snaps, while Williams played 38%. But as we see here, Williams got more playing time from Week 8 through Week 14. Watson again took the reins in Week 15, getting more snaps through the remainder of the season.

Both players did an excellent job, playing well even when being inserted into the middle of a game. The coaching staff also deserves credit for keeping both players ready each week, allowing the team to be comfortable playing "the hot hand."

But going into 2023, what is the Chiefs' plan for Williams and Watson?

By the end of last season, Kansas City was primarily using McDuffie in the slot, unlocking his ability as a blitzer and tackler. This also allowed Sneed to be assigned to each opposing team's best wide receiver — something that, in the past, the Chiefs have been reluctant to do. Williams and Watson did have to switch sides depending on the formation — but since they were generally guarding each opponent's third or fourth receiving option, it wasn't a big concern.

I'd still expect the team to use Sneed and McDuffie as it did at the end of last season. Williams and Watson will likely continue to fill the other outside cornerback role — which is a perfect way to deploy them.

But will we continue to see Williams and Watson in a rotation, or will one of them step up and be the full-time cornerback next to Sneed and McDuffie?

From my perspective, Watson was better than Williams in 2022. Watson impressed me not only with his elite length but also with his football IQ and the ball skills he displayed on film. Last season, Kansas City mixed in a lot more zone coverage than it did in previous years, which suits Watson's skillset well.

Still, the bet on Williams was that he has ridiculous high-end traits — something that Watson doesn't have. While both have elite length, Williams is a more dynamic athlete. If the Chiefs want to play more man coverage, Williams should theoretically be the right choice; he'll tend to hold up better in that kind of role.

Ultimately, I trust both of these corners to step in and play well if needed — but I do feel that the team's decision will ultimately depend on what it wants to do on defense. If the Chiefs want their defense to continue to be based on zone coverages, giving Watson more work will still make sense. But if Kansas City decides to depend more on man coverages, Williams should get more snaps.

This means that just like last season, much of this will be matchup-dependent; the Chiefs will tend to use the best player to defend against a particular offense. I'll be curious to see how Williams and Watson's snaps shake out.

Will they continue to be close, or will one separate from the other? Weigh in with your thoughts in the comment section below.

NEW: Join Arrowhead Pride Premier

If you love Arrowhead Pride, you won’t want to miss Pete Sweeney in your inbox each week as he delivers deep analysis and insights on the Chiefs' path to the Super Bowl.