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Surprised by Darious Williams' success? His teammates aren't, and neither is he
Finally getting an opportunity to be a full-time starter in 2020, Rams cornerback Darious Williams is making the most of it. 
By Stu Jackson Nov 21, 2020
Photographs By Brevin Townsell/LA Rams, Jeff Lewis

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – It's been a common refrain whenever a Rams player gets asked about cornerback Darious Williams' 2020 success.

"We're not surprised," they will say.

Neither is Williams.

Guided by unwavering faith, his patience over the last two years and beyond is being rewarded with a breakout third season.

"It's not a surprise," Williams said during a video conference Friday. "I've been making plays for awhile now, just never able to put it on the field. Obviously we had all the talent in the world here with (Marcus) Peters and (Aqib) Talib, guys like that. It's finally starting to show now."

Williams' path to the Rams hasn't been entirely unconventional. However, while he is not the first undrafted rookie to ascend to stardom, a fair argument could be made the route itself is one not every player has taken.

He initially began his college career at Division III Marietta College in Ohio in 2011, before returning home for family reasons, according to a December 2017 story from 247Sports. Two years later, he enrolled at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) looking to resume his college career, but had to try out as a walk-on twice to do so. According to a December 2017 story by The Athletic's Matt Fortuna, he was cut during walk-on tryouts by then-head coach Garrick McGee in 2013 before making the team in 2014 under new head coach Bill Clark.

Then, after a successful 2014 season in which recorded 23 tackles, one interception and six pass breakups starting in five of 12 games – and earned a scholarship halfway through the season – UAB shuttered its football program. The decision was announced on December 2, 2014 – three days after a 45-24 win at Southern Mississippi clinched a 6-6 record and bowl eligibility for the Blazers for the first time since 2004.

While UAB reversed course and reinstated the program six months later, the program wouldn't actually play a season for another two years. Williams filled some of that time delivering flowers for an ACE Hardware store for a handful of months. He also had offers from Southern Miss, Troy and South Alabama following that 2014 season to continue his college career uninterrupted, but chose to remain with UAB.

In UAB's first season back in 2017, Williams was a Pro Football Focus First Team All-American and earned First Team All-Conference USA recognition after tying for fourth in the nation in interceptions (five), a figure which also led the conference. He also had a Conference USA-high 15 pass breakups while starting in all 13 games.

Yet even with that production and corresponding accolades, Williams went undrafted in 2018. Still, he was undeterred by the obstacle.

"I mean, I'm a big faith guy," Williams said. "I'm real big in God and all that, so that never once crossed my mind. Like, never. I always have faith that something's going to happen, and I never get caught up in, if a door closes or a door looks like it freezes, that that's the end of it. I just always know it's something that's opening, there's something that's coming, and that's how it always was. From UAB, to possibly going undrafted, then going undrafted, all that never really fazed me because I always knew I was going to have a shot."

He did get that shot, but much like his time in college, it would require him to lean on that same patience and faith.

The Ravens were the first team to give him a chance, signing him as an undrafted free agent. They waived him after three games, but it wouldn't take him long to find another opportunity: Two days after being waived Baltimore, he was claimed by the Los Angeles Rams.

There was just one problem, though: As Williams noted earlier, L.A. already had an established and experienced cornerback tandem in Peters and Talib. Behind those third-year and 10-year veterans respectively were fifth-year pro Nickell Robey-Coleman and third-year pro Troy Hill.

Consequently, Williams appeared in just one game in his first season with the Rams. However, just like he did before, he remained faithful his time would come, continuing to put in the work and prove himself. Rams head coach Sean McVay took notice during the team's practices in the second half of that 2018 season.

"He was locking our guys down going back to the '18 season, where he was on scout team," McVay said during a video conference Friday. "You'd almost have to tell him, 'Hey, take it easy, man. You're going to shake our confidence going into this game.'"

A year later, he caught wide receiver Robert Woods' attention.

"Obviously, going to practice, you're running your routes, getting in rhythm, and some plays you're against Darious Williams," Woods said during a video conference Friday. "You run your routes, and you're looking, like, 'this guy is over me, he's kind of covering me,' and you look back and you see it's Darious. So throughout last year, you're seeing this guy being able to make plays, stay at your hip and really just progress into being able to make these plays on Sunday."

Injuries and trades at the cornerback position would pave the way for Williams to get his first meaningful snaps with the Rams in 2019. The team traded away both Peters and Talib midseason and brought in Jalen Ramsey via a trade with the Jaguars, but Williams still recorded 15 tackles, four pass breakups and two interceptions while playing in 12 games. Hill's fractured thumb against the Cowboys in Week 15 led to more playing time for Williams, specifically a starting role in Weeks 16 and 17.

"Darious Williams, the way he played those last four weeks, was of starting caliber in the NFL," Rams cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant told during a phone interview in early August. "Not only was he able to make plays, but he was able to get his hands on the ball. And when you can create turnovers in the National Football League, that's something that separates you from the others."

Though the Rams would hire a new defensive coordinator and implement a new scheme two months after Williams' strong finish to the season, the change would ultimately benefit him.

Brandon Staley was well-aware of Williams' talents long before he got the Rams' defensive coordinator job. As a result, he knew "very early on" after getting hired that Williams would be someone he could trust at one of the boundary corner spots.

"Very early on, I knew that this guy had cover skills that translate to this league," Staley said during a Nov. 11 video conference. "I think last year when he got his opportunity, he performed extremely well in two very big games against Dallas with a highly prolific offense, and then against San Francisco. So, I think when he got his opportunity, he kind of showed that he had the right stuff."

Interacting with Williams in team meetings during the virtual offseason program and later in-person during training camp further confirmed Staley's belief that Williams had "the cover skills and the makeup to be an outstanding corner in this league" and that "he's got a lot of confidence in himself and he's got a lot of the skills that translate to being a good corner."

There was at least one person outside of the Rams locker room who seemed in tune with Williams being on the cusp of a breakout third season. When Bleacher Report's Brad Gagnon compiled his pick for each NFL team's sleeper heading into training camp on July 11, Williams was his Rams selection.

A little over two months later, he intercepted Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz's pass in the endzone midway through the third quarter to preserve a 21-16 lead in the Rams' Week 2 game. In Week 4, his diving interception in the redzone clinched a 17-9 Rams win over the Giants.

Then, in his best game of the season, he picked off Seahawks quarterback and NFL MVP candidate Russell Wilson twice – bringing him to a team-high four interceptions – in the Rams' 23-16 Week 10 victory, also making a leaping, finger-tipped pass breakup in the endzone on a Wilson pass intended for wide receiver Tyler Lockett to help secure the victory.

"I think it's time to start talking about D-Will in this league as a household name," Ramsey said in his Week 10 postgame video conference. "As a guy who can potentially be an All-Pro, as a guy who should be a Pro-Bowler. He's that type of guy. I think he seized his opportunities and he balled today."

Statistically, it would appear he's well on his way to that recognition. And soon, opponents' respect might help further state his case.

Williams is playing so well opposite Ramsey that Staley was asked this week whether opposing quarterbacks might start throwing away from his direction.

"I think teams will be certainly a lot more aware of Darious," Staley said during a video conference Thursday. "I think that he's certainly commanding people's attention now."

To hear his teammates tell it, that attention has been a long time coming.

As for Williams himself, he said he "never doubted" this was where he was going to end up.

"He's electric. He's a playmaker. His ball skills are amazing," Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald said. "The thing is, prior years before this, he was doing these same things at camp, he just wasn't starting yet, didn't get his opportunity. He got a starting job and gets to share it with the world now."

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