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Off The Radar Prospect: Marcus Williams

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North Dakota State's Marcus Williams is a playmaker, both as a cornerback and kickoff returner. Photo courtesy of NDSU media relations.
North Dakota State's Marcus Williams is a playmaker, both as a cornerback and kickoff returner. Photo courtesy of NDSU media relations.

You would think that Marcus Williams would have something to prove, that he’d feel compelled to show the NFL scouts something special. That he’d do anything to get their attention, so that they could see everything he can do.

The truth is Williams would be fine showing them nothing.

Make no mistake, Williams knows just how big an opportunity he has on the opening Saturday of the 2013 college football season. When North Dakota State travels to Kansas State, the senior cornerback will have his chance to play in front of more scouts than are likely to find their way to Fargo.

“This will be the biggest game North Dakota State has had in a long time,” he said, wins in the last two FCS championship games notwithstanding.

But Williams is a realist. He knows that before he can hear his name called from the draft day podium on one of the Big Apple’s biggest stages, he must make a name for himself in the Little Apple.

And the best way for Williams to do that might turn out to be doing nothing.

The chance to do nothing would be about the ultimate compliment the Wildcats could pay their guest. If they don’t throw the ball his way, that speaks volumes about his abilities as a cornerback. If they don’t kick the ball to him, that tells scouts all they need to know about his talents as a returner.

The stat sheet may wind up suggesting that Williams had a quiet game. But the absence of stats can tell a story, too.

“The scouts watch film,” said Williams. “They know.”

Williams is a bit of a film buff himself. During the season, he says he’ll watch game film twice a day – once with the team, once by himself, always with an eye toward finding an edge.

“I watch for alignments, where the players are in the formation, what receivers do in their release when they’re running this route, you know, quarterback and receiver tendencies,” said Williams.

Normally, you hear about quarterbacks scrutinizing film this way. Or JFK conspiracy buffs. Not a cornerback.

But Williams has found that film study pays off on the field. He has 18 career interceptions to show for his meticulous work, already an NDSU record. Six of those picks have come during the FCS playoffs, including two in the 2013 championship game against Sam Houston State.

Not all of the credit for those interceptions goes to diligence in the film room. You still have to make the play, and Williams’ athleticism and instincts around the ball are those of a promising NFL playmaker. He breaks on the ball as if he were the intended target, and he mirrors his receiver’s routes as if he knew what he’d be running. Which, thanks to his film work, he does.

Early in the 2012 season, Williams recalled, he was watching film of Colorado State and noticed that every time the quarterback saw Cover 3, he'd throw a seam route. The Bison faced the Rams in Week 2, and at one point they disguised their true coverage, showing Cover 3 to sucker the quarterback into throwing the seam route. He did, and Williams made the interception, and NDSU went on to knock off another FBS opponent.

“On the field, you’re happy that you made the play. But you think, ‘We knew this was going to happen,’ ” said Williams, who at 5-foot-11, 197 pounds, also has NFL size; he's roughly the size of the first 10 corners drafted in 2013. “it’s never easy, but it makes you feel good when you outsmart your opponent.”

Williams outsmarts them plenty. And he’s even more dangerous when outrunning them.

He’s returned four picks for touchdowns so far in his career. Add that to the pair of kickoffs he’s returned for TDs, too. His resume may say “2012 Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Year,” but with the ball in his hands in the open field, Williams is as explosive an offensive weapon as the Bison have.

At times, there had been talk of giving Williams some snaps at wide receiver. But it seems he will spend his senior season doing what he knows he’ll be doing at the next level next year – playing corner and returning kicks.

Even if Kansas State and everyone else on the 2013 schedule would rather give him nothing to do.