K’Waun Williams weighs just 185 pounds on his 5-foot-9 frame. Often, he’s the smallest man on the field and looks even younger than his 28 years.
But for the past three seasons, the 49ers slot cornerback has made a big impact.
As the Niners work toward the 2020 season, the San Francisco defense gets plenty of attention. It was ranked second in the league just this week by longtime NFL analyst Doug Farrar (behind only New England), and it’s a star-laden unit that includes Nick Bosa and Dee Ford, first-round pick Javon Kinlaw, linebacker Fred Warner and cornerback Richard Sherman.
Williams, on the other hand, often is overlooked, although his teammates and coaches know how valuable he is. Late last season, Sherman successfully campaigned to get Williams on the Pro Bowl ballot, and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was glad he finally got a bit of recognition.
“He’s earned it,” said Saleh. “He’s worked his tail off and he’s been healthy. I think people are starting to recognize how valuable he is in the slot.”
Williams, who played his first two pro seasons for the Browns after coming out of Pitt, had a fine 2019, with two interceptions, two passes defensed, four forced fumbles, a sack and 51 combined tackles. He forced another fumble and had 15 tackles in three postseason games.
But his true worth is in pass coverage in the slot, where he can shut down opponents.
This week, Ben Linsey of the analytic website Pro Football Focus selected Williams as the 49ers’ most underrated player going into the coming season.
Wrote Linsey: “Even as an undrafted rookie out of Pittsburgh, Williams showed early on that there was a place for him in the NFL in the slot. His 90.3 coverage grade during his 2014 rookie season on 350 defensive snaps speaks for itself.”
Linsey noted Williams’ play has been consistently solid for the Browns and 49ers.
“The only two qualifying cornerbacks with a better overall grade in the slot than Williams since 2014 are Chris Harris Jr. and Desmond King II,” wrote Linsey. “His (Williams’) play was an underrated component of San Francisco’s success on defense in 2019, and he’ll likely be a big reason for the team’s continued success next season.”
This will be the final year of Williams’ three-year deal with the 49ers. He’s set to make a little over $3 million.