Tramon Williams was beaten.
Matt Ryan’s deep pass down the right sideline to Michael Jenkins had touchdown written all over it. Atlanta 21, Green Bay ...
But then Williams hit the accelerator and jumped. It was one of those Michael Jordan-style jumps in which the rules of gravity didn’t seem to apply. That Jenkins slipped and landed on his keyster was irrelevant, really. Nobody could have prevented Williams from pulling down a breathtaking interception.
It was the turning point of the game. Aaron Rodgers promptly drove the Packers 80 yards to a touchdown to give the Packers a 21-14 lead, and when Williams read Ryan like a book just before halftime and streaked down the sideline like a blur, the Packers had extended their advantage to 28-14. A game scheduled for the standard 60 minutes, the NFC divisional playoff game was over in 30.
“I've said it time and time again during the season: He's is having a Pro Bowl season,” coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. “When these playoffs and the Super Bowl are completed, everybody in the country is going to know who Tramon Williams is. That's the type of level that he's playing at.”
Where would the Packers be without Williams?
Then again, where would Williams be without the Packers?
At Assumption High School in Napoleonville, La., Williams was a four-year letterman and a second-team all-state selection as a senior. A superb athlete, he was a four-year letterman in basketball and finished second in the state in the long jump and triple jump and third in the high jump in his first and only year in track and field.
So, it wasn’t like he was a late bloomer. And it’s not like nobody was watching. The star of that team was Brandon Jacobs, the bruising running back for the New York Giants.
Williams enrolled at Louisiana Tech to pursue a degree in electrical engineering. Football wasn’t on his radar, but when he watched the football team play on a couple of Saturdays, he knew he had to give it another shot. So, the following year, there was Williams — a future NFL star — trying out for the team as a walk-on.
Williams finally became a full-time starter during his senior season, earning first-team all-WAC honors with three interceptions and by leading the nation with 19 passes defensed.
And yet, the draft came and went. Twenty-two cornerbacks were drafted — including four in the first round and Will Blackmon by the Packers in the fourth — but Williams wasn’t among them. He failed to make the Houston Texans’ roster as an undrafted free agent and, after failing to get signed after a series of workouts, finally landed on the Packers’ practice squad after a series of roster moves brought about by Blackmon going on injured reserve.
So, who cares about Williams’ Pro Bowl snub. How about his lifetime of snubs?
Tramon Williams rises ... and rises
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
“I don't know,” Williams said on Monday when asked how a budding superstar cornerback could go unrecruited and undrafted. “That's a question that I think that's always going to be up in the air. That's something that I don't know. Of course, there may be the answer somewhere down the road. But not right now.”
Williams is the answer that every team wishes it could find. The NFL is starved for quality cover guys, which is why teams are passing more than ever. And yet the Packers found a fearless, hungry gem with a 42-inch vertical leap on the scrap heap.
General manager Ted Thompson has made a living unearthing diamonds in the rough, but let’s be real here: If Thompson were so smart on this one, he would have signed Williams on Sept. 4, 2006 — one day after his release from Houston — rather than 86 days later, on Nov. 29, 2006. Instead, Williams gets the credit for seizing the opportunity.
Williams took over the nickel job during the team’s drive to the NFC Championship Game in 2007. He started nine games in 2008, either as the nickel or in place of injured Al Harris (spleen). He started 10 games in 2009, either as the nickel or in place of Harris (knee) again. In 2008 and 2009, he picked off a total of nine passes.
He has that many this year — a league-leading figure including his three in the postseason.
“I don't think I could have sat up there and told you I was capable of this,” Williams said of his mind-set while watching a Louisiana Tech game from the seats as a freshman. “But my mentality coming up, if you ask anyone who I've grown up with, I've always been a smaller kid going up against the bigger guys. My athleticism, I was always that athletic. So, they always say, ‘Little Tramon Williams, but he's outdoing everyone.’ That's the way I approached things. Anything that was given to me, I saw it as a challenge and went after it.”
Williams’ talent has flourished while working with veteran cornerback Charles Woodson and cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt. During training camp, Whitt repeatedly said Williams was every bit as good a player as some of the big-name cornerbacks in the league. Williams is making believers now, due in part to a voracious appetite for watching film.
“I got a computer with the same programs that they have here for us to watch film,” Williams said. “I go home, play with my son a little bit, and then just go in my office and watch film for two or three hours. The time flies when I'm watching film. And that's basically my day. It's a 24-hour thing. Just go home, play with my son for a little bit. Watch film for a while. Go back and play with my son and watch more film. Maybe until about 12, 1 in the morning and go to sleep and wake up and go to practice. That’s basically my day.”
Finally, the 27-year-old Williams is wanted. Playing under a restricted free agent contract this season, the Packers made sure Williams wouldn’t leave during the offseason by signing him to a four-year deal worth about $33 million.
It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, who wears an easy smile and always has a minute to answer another couple of questions. The money goes to some players’ head. Williams, on the other hand, has only gotten better, with five interceptions since signing his new deal.
“There's no surprise that Tramon is turning into one of your best players, because the smartest players in my experience in this league are always your best players,” McCarthy said. “What's exciting about Tramon, he still has a lot of football growth in his game ahead of him.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.
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