With a dearth of skill-position talent currently on the roster, the Atlanta Falcons are moving a young defensive back to the offensive side of the ball.
Avery Williams, who returned kicks and punts and played 121 defensive snaps during his 2021 rookie season, will play running back for the Falcons in 2022, head coach Arthur Smith told reporters Thursday.
Williams, 23, was drafted in the fifth round last year out of Boise State. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound player made appearances in 15 games in 2021, mostly on special teams. Williams returned 20 punts for 153 yards and 23 kicks for 490 yards, leading all Falcons players, including ace returner Cordarrelle Patterson, in each category. On defense, Williams played sparingly but did record 22 tackles, three QB hits and forced one fumble.
The Falcons under Smith love to experiment with positionless football on offense — Patterson, a former receiver and returner, is primarily a running back, while star tight end Kyle Pitts takes more snaps lined up as a wide receiver — so moving a gamer like Williams to running back isn’t out of character for the franchise. Williams should also be comfortable at his new position, as he was a star running back at JSerra Catholic (California) High School.
Williams is the latest addition this offseason to an Atlanta offense in dire need of juice (QBs Marcus Mariota, Desmond Ridder; RB Williams; WRs Drake London, Bryan Edwards, Damiere Byrd, KhaDarel Hodge, Auden Tate; TE Anthony Firkser). The Falcons also added former Tennessee Titans tailback Jeremy McNichols on Thursday.
Atlanta’s gain on offense won’t come at the expense of its special teams unit. Williams is still expected to play a factor in the return game in 2022.