Cardinals select Syracuse CB Garrett Williams with 72nd pick

(AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

Syracuse cornerback Garrett Williams felt comfortable with the Arizona Cardinals coaching staff through pre-draft meetings.

He said Friday after he became the team’s 72nd overall pick – which the Cardinals traded the Texans for to move up from No. 81 overall – the coaching staff expressed excitement when they met for the first time. They didn’t appear to be concerned about Wilson’s ACL tear, which he suffered back in October.

But that might be for good reason.

“I should be ready by July,” Williams said of his progression after surgery. “I feel really good about where I’m at in my rehab and my recovery. Everybody I’ve been working with has been really impressed about the things I can do and how hard I’ve been going at it.”

Before his injury, Williams was projected to be picked earlier in the draft. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said shortly after the Cardinals’ selection Friday night that he would’ve been in the second round had it not been for the setback.

Cardinals General Manager Monti Ossenfort said the injury didn’t play a role in where he drafted Williams. He was high on their board.

“Garrett is a player we really like,” Ossenfort said. “He’s played inside, he’s played outside, he’s extremely tough and physical. He’s not the tallest guy but he plays bigger than his size.”

Williams has attacked physical therapy since the injury occurred. Through all the trips and meetings with teams leading up to the draft, he brought along the equipment he uses for physical therapy and worked out in hotel gyms to not miss a day of rehab.

At the draft combine, he relied on his knowledge of the game to standout to teams while being unable to participate in drills.

“I needed to show that I’m sharper than anyone else when it comes to knowing the game,” Williams said. “After I did that, I was very comfortable. Thing were gonna play out how they kinda did. You can’t stress when you can’t control certain things.”

Williams was a three-year starter for the Orange after redshirting his freshman year.

At 5-foot-10, 192 pounds, he emerged as one of the top defensive backs in the country in his second season. He recorded two interceptions – one for a touchdown – and 64 total tackles in his 11 starts.

He went on to become an honorable mention All-ACC pick the following year and again in 2022 after recording 36 tackles and two interceptions before the injury.  

Williams was praised in pre-draft analysis for his ability to cover in zone. But experts believe he can be inconsistent when he has his back to the quarterback in press coverage.

He said that doesn’t raise concern, however. His redshirt freshman year, Syracuse ran press coverage before converting to zone in his seasons. He said he thrived in the old system just as much as he did in the new.

Williams believes he will do the same for the Cardinals.

“I feel like I can do anything coach asks me to do,” Williams said. “My redshirt freshman year we played man a lot and I pressed a lot, and I did very well at it.”

Cardinals General Manager Monti Ossenfort identified Williams as a high character football player. He said he and the staff spoke with team doctors and researched Williams’ ACL injury.

Ossenfort described him as an “impressive, impressive individual.” Williams’ injury didn’t scare off Ossenfort or the rest of the Cardinals’ staff. They aim to get him in the facility as soon as possible to continue rehab under the direction of team doctors and make sure he is healthy enough to make an impact.

“Whenever he is ready, we’ll get him out there and we’ll get him rolling,” Ossenfort said. “I wouldn’t say it’s something where we’re gonna rush him out there as soon as possible and I wouldn’t say it’s a thing where we save him until next year.

“The type of kid he is I know he’s going to come in and attack his rehab and when he’s ready to roll we’ll put him out there.”

Williams brings confidence to a defensive backs group now in need of more depth and a potential starter. Byron Murphy missed half the 2022-23 season due to injury and signed with Minnesota in free agency.

His departure left the Cardinals with six corners on the roster, including Marco Wilson and Antonio Hamilton Sr.

But should he continue to progress and be available in July, Williams aims to make a splash right away in the Cardinal secondary.

“I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be,” Williams said. “This is the team I said from the jump that I feel like I had the best connection with.

“I think they believe in what I can be and what I am when I’m healthy. I just can’t wait to get fully healthy and show them they were exactly right on the pick they made.”