NFL talent evaluators will continue to ignore the University of Alabama-Birmingham at their own risk.
One season into its return to Conference USA following a two-year program shutdown, UAB had zero players invited to the NFL combine, or even listed as potential draft picks on the official NFL site. Those scouts who attended UAB’s pro day in March saw one major reason to keep paying attention: Cornerback Darious Williams.
Alongside five other draft-eligible Blazers, the corner put on a show in Birmingham. Several of his workout results would have landed him among the top cornerbacks at the combine.
Meet Darious, your new favorite sleeper draft pick.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound cornerback out of Jacksonville, Florida didn’t head to UAB straight out of high school, but rather joined the football team at Marietta College, a DIII school in Ohio. After just one year up north, he left the program to go back home and deal with some family issues. It took two tries — and a new head coach — before Williams was accepted as a walk-on to the UAB program ahead of the 2014 season.
Williams emerged as a consistent contributor in his first season, appearing in 12 games and making five starts. After recording 23 total tackles, six defended passes and one pick-6 (on a nine-yard return that season, he garnered offers from South Alabama, Southern Miss, and Troy once UAB’s program was shutdown, but ultimately he chose to stay with the Blazers. Williams spent two years practicing and training until the the program was back competing in 2017.
“I think (the NFL scouts) like a lot of things — his length, his speed,” said UAB head coach Bill Clark, according to 247Sports. “Now, with physicality, that light came on early in the year. When you got all those things — smart, good person, good player, really intelligent player. He’s got all the attributes that they’re looking for.”
How good was his pro day? Top-10 cornerback good.
Williams’ finished his pro day workout with a 4.44 second 40-yard dash (tied for No. 9 among combine top CB performers), a 39” vertical jump (tying for second-best CB jump at the combine) and a 6.84 second 3-cone drill (would’ve put him at No. 10 among CBs at the combine).
He helped UAB to a surprisingly good season, especially on defense.
Williams’s pro day results were just the cherry on top of a senior season that included helping UAB’s defense rank among some of the best in the country.
They fielded a top-50 defense! Think about that! They ranked in the top 25 in defensive success rate and in the top 15 against the pass.
The Blazers weren’t just back last season, they were actually pretty good. After almost completing rebuilding in just a couple recruiting cycles, they ended up going 6-0 at home and 6-2 against conference opponents, finishing their first season back with a 8-5 record. It was also only the second time in program history that UAB had made a bowl game — even if they would lose 6-41 to Ohio in the Bahamas Bowl.
UAB hasn’t had a player drafted since 2015, and among the program’s 12 all-time draft picks, only three of those have been defensive backs. The two most successful NFL DBs out of UAB were both drafted in 1998, Dainon Sidney (Tennessee Titans) and Izell Reese (Dallas Cowboys). And the most recent DB taken was almost two decades ago, when Rodregis Brooks was picked in the seventh round by the Indianapolis Colts in 2000.
The team that drafts Darious Williams will get a ball hawk.
Aside from the obvious athleticism displayed during his pro day, Williams has found success as a ball hawk in the secondary. One of the few players to stick around after the program was shutdown for financial reasons following the 2014 season, Williams returned the field last season with new motivation to dominate — which is exactly what he did.
Williams finished his senior campaign with the Blazers with 50 total tackles (4 for loss), 15 pass breakups, and five (!!!) interceptions resulting in one pick-6. He finished 2017 ranked No. 2 in Conference USA for interceptions made, and No. 1 in passes defended.
Williams may not have garnered the same amount of national attention as Ohio State’s Denzel Ward or Iowa’s Josh Jackson, but he quietly had a senior season that was among the best in the country. He was named a 2018 PFF First Team All-American, thanks to finishing the year with the second-highest coverage grade of any cornerback in the FBS.
Keep paying attention to UAB.
Things are looking up for the once defunct program with news that the team is getting a new stadium. Whatever NFL team does notice Williams, will be getting a steal. He will also be a walking endorsement for the potential of players at overlooked schools like UAB. After going through the adversity he did in his four years in Birmingham, Williams’s transition to the NFL will be even sweeter.