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Coveted free agent nickel back K’Waun Williams chooses 49ers [report]


John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have landed their first new player of their much anticipated roster rebuild.

Former Cleveland Browns cornerback K’Waun Williams has signed a one-year deal with the 49ers, according to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. Several other teams were rumored to be in the running for Williams, including the Jets, Lions and Vikings.

We predicted this move earlier in the day because of Williams’ longstanding relationship with defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley. Here’s that short story in its entirety.

Cornerback is one of the San Francisco 49ers’ very few stocked position groups, but the team has a chance to add a name who could play a prominent role in 2017 and beyond.

CSN Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco is reporting GM John Lynch has placed an offer on former Cleveland Browns nickel back K’waun Williams, who is also weighing offers from at least four other teams.

Williams walked onto the field as an undrafted free agent in 2014 for the Browns and immediately became an integral part of the defense. He’s a physical nickel who plays bigger than his size (5-foot-9, 183 pounds). He also specializes as a blitzer. Current 49ers defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley found Williams through his University of Pittsburgh connections. Williams and Hafley bonded and it could play a role in where Williams chooses. Veteran Browns teammates loved him, too, nicknaming him “Kay-Kay.”

Unfortunately for Williams, a promising young career was thrown up in the air because of an injury grievance last year with the Cleveland Browns, who alleged the cornerback’s ankle wasn’t injured when he insisted on sitting out a preseason game. The Browns fined, suspended and eventually released Williams in August. The Chicago Bears claimed him, but guess what? A physical revealed he needed surgery to remove bone spurs from his ankle. The NFL still hasn’t settled the grievance between Williams and Cleveland, but the 25-year-old missed the entire season.

Part of the problem for the 49ers on defense in 2016 was the constant swapping around of the nickel back position. Jimmie Ward played it most of the time. Did that truly help with his development? A better option would be to let Ward focus solely on becoming a shutdown outside cornerback alongside Rashard Robinson. Then let K’Waun Williams handle the nickel backing duties and keep Tramaine Brock as depth in case of an injury. Williams solely plays nickel back, he’s never logged real snaps in a game at outside cornerback. Having this type of specialty player can be luxurious in today’s matchup NFL.

Even if taking this flier on Williams ends up not panning into a major role, Lynch, Kyle Shanahan and Robert Saleh need a stable of cornerbacks in their new defensive system. The secondary is going to be playing on islands by themselves and they’ll also be asked to tackle a bunch when defending the run. You need an array of different skill sets with how much cornerbacks are asked to do and Williams is a unique piece to have.

After the 2014 offseason, PFF named Williams a top-13 cornerback in the NFL. 49ers fans should hope he chooses to return with Hafley, the first NFL coach to tap into his potential.

 

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