ATHENS – Full disclosure: It’s possible I could overrate Shawn Williams. I’ve been on record as being one of his biggest boosters, at least in terms of his football prowess. Last year, when fellow safety Bacarri Rambo was earning All-SEC and All-America honors, yours truly was telling anybody and everybody that Williams was just as good as Rambo.
In fact, it was Williams who led Georgia with 72 tackles, and had four interceptions. But Rambo’s eye-popping eight interceptions, second in the nation, propelled him to those accolades.
(Williams isn’t afraid to talk himself up either. Nor is he afraid to give it a little extra to opponents, as was evidenced in the Vanderbilt game last year.)
In any case, Williams isn’t likely to be overlooked this season, at least at the outset. And that’s why he comes in at No. 7 in our ranking of Georgia’s most important players for the 2012 season.
Just a reminder: This is not a ranking of Georgia’s 10 best players. It is the most important, taking into account concerns and weaknesses for the Bulldogs entering the season. Which is why at No. 7 we have:
WHY HE'S VITAL: Williams is the only member of Georgia’s projected starting secondary who is not facing suspension to start the season. Rambo’s four-game suspension is pending, and both starting cornerbacks are likely to be out. That leaves Williams as the leader of a young secondary, whose other starters in the opener could be three sophomores, including a converted receiver (Malcolm Mitchell). Williams has two years of starting experience, and during that time has taken the role of the fiery, emotional guy. Now if he’s leading a younger group, does he need to dial it back, and would that take away from his game? Georgia will need steady leadership from Williams, but it also needs his production.
QUOTABLE: “He plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played. And that’s what you want. It’s physical, hard-nosed guys that are athletes, and that’s what he gives you.” – Georgia secondary coach Scott Lakatos, on Williams.
BEST CASE: Williams rises to the occasion at the start of the season, carrying the youngsters with him. That’s enough to get the Bulldogs past the opening stretch, and keep the SEC and BCS hopes alive. Williams settles into the role of a dependable safety without losing the fire, and avoids a suspension-inducing play when Vanderbilt visits in Week 4.
WORST CASE: Williams didn’t have much impact (four tackles, no sacks or picks) in last year’s opener against Boise State, when Rambo was suspended. The absence of the secondary veterans allows opponents to run away from Williams.
FINAL WORD: Dependable and fiery are the two best words to describe Williams. But Georgia needs the dependable part much more the first few games of 2012.
Next up: The sixth-most important player for 2012, who is coming off a very successful 2011.