Editor’s Note: an earlier version of this piece stated Williams played at American Heritage as a HS freshman. Williams played at Miami (FL) Monsignor Pace his freshman year. The piece has been updated to reflect this corrected information.
In this installment of the recruiting notebook, we meet a player with uncommon size and incredible skill in the defensive secondary: Plantation (FL) American Heritage S James Williams.
For the past 4 years (maybe longer), James Williams has been a known, and highly coveted, commodity in the recruiting world. At 6’5” 220lbs, Williams is a gigantic player at Safety. And he’s been about that size since he entered HS, so that’s part of the draw.
The other part of the draw is that he’s very, very good. Williams immediately emerged as a star level player in his freshman year at Miami (FL) Monsignor Pace.
Early on, things were great for Miami. Williams committed to the Canes as a HS sophomore after transferring to Plantation (FL) American Heritage. That’s the now-powerhouse program built by former coach Mike Rumph and being continued by Pat Surtain that has produced numerous elite level P5 prospects, with a particular ability to develop high level DBs. But, when his recruitment continued and more and more elite programs started reaching out, Williams decommitted from the Canes near the beginning of his junior season.
After starring for Monsignor Pace and American Heritage for the first 2 years of his HS career, Williams made the choice to transfer to Davie (FL) Western as a junior. That marriage was short lived, however, and Williams ended up back where he’d just come from for his senior year: American Heritage.
Through every step of the journey, Williams was a premium recruiting target for Miami, along with nearly every top level P5 team you can think of. Over the course of his HS career, Williams, was linked with Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, and numerous other schools. It’s rare to find a DB with his combination of size and skill. And that’s why all the recruiting heavy hitters were in on his recruitment.
For a long time, it seemed like Williams would be the latest elite DB recruit to leave SoFLA. But, Miami — namely S coach Ephraim Banda — kept pushing, kept building a relationship, and that paid off in the end. After Williams named Georgia and Clemson his final 2, he opened things back up, then Miami was in the final 2. Then late one July evening, Williams shocked the recruiting world by committing to Miami for a 2nd (and final) time.
And, with that commitment, Miami had beaten a who’s who of elite recruiting programs, and added the kind of player that comes along only once in a few years. And that, my friends, is a good thing.
Williams is elite as elite gets. On the 247sports composite, Williams is a 5-star prospect, #13 overall in the 2021 recruiting class, #1 Safety in the country, and #4 player in the State of Florida. Like I said, elite.
An Adidas All-American, Williams committed to Miami over offers from nearly every P5 team in the country, and named finalists Georgia and Clemson. Rare recruiting air to be sure.
As A Player
As previously stated, the first thing you notice about Williams is the fact that he’s MASSIVE in the defensive secondary. A legit 6’5” 220lbs with room to grow and fill out his frame. Early on in his HS career, many analysts thought that Williams would out-grow Safety and move into the box as a Linebacker (or even Defensive End). To his credit, however, Williams was of the firm and intractable stance that he’s a Safety, only a Safety, and would not move from Safety. Even as he’s grown from 6’3-ish to 6’5” and gained weight from 190lbs to 220lbs, Williams has proven himself to be right, and remains a Safety.
One of the knocks on Williams is despite his incredible size, he’s not physical. He prefers to run around tackles or wrap up from the side as opposed to meeting receivers or running backs head on. Williams has done work to contradict that evaluation as a senior, but when the ready comparison on physicality (due to size and build) is Sean Taylor, Williams can improve in that area.
Williams’s size allows him to move around the defensive secondary. He can be a centerfield Free Safety, or come down toward the box more. He’s not the hitter of an Amari Carter but he can be used closer to the line of scrimmage, which is something he showed early on as a senior when teams openly refused to try the forward pass against American Heritage.
Here’s an evaluation of Williams by 247sports Southeast Recruiting Analyst Andrew Ivins:
A unicorn of a prospect. Has been mistaken in the past for a defensive end instead of a defensive back given lengthy frame that’s pushing 6-foot-5, 215 pounds. Isn’t bulky, however. Could add mass and transition into more of an in-the-box defender once in college or try to remain on the leaner side. A ballhawk of a safety that has shown the ability to get from sideline to sideline. Smooth in the backpedal for someone of his stature. Fluid enough to cover a tight end out of the slot. Has a “my ball” mentality which results in plenty of takeaways. Comes downhill in a hurry. Some concerns about physicality did arise during junior season, but flipped a switch as a senior and started seeking out contact when asked to blitz and run the alleys. Will need to learn how to stack and shed if he’s going to be more of a front seven player at the next level. Must also improve tackling technique. Has maintained throughout the recruiting process that he’s a safety, but it wouldn’t be all that surprising to eventually get snaps in a hybrid linebacker type of role. Rare combination of size and skill set suggest he’s a future NFL Draft pick.
Here’s another evaluation of Williams by 247sports Scouting Director Barton Simmons
One of the most rare body types in the 2020 class. Long, streamlined athlete with a massive safety frame that would more traditionally translate to a box defender. Not bulky. Lean and muscled with continued developmental upside. Despite long levers, shows a smooth backpedal and natural defensive back movement skills. Very effective as a single-high safety playing centerfield and tracking down the football. Good ball skills. Shows some good feel in hole coverage navigating intermediate and middle-breaking routes. Has shown good timing and feel as a blitzer. Has the athleticism to make plays on the football and in run support and still stay on his feet and under control. Effective at wide receiver on the high school level. Active ripping at the football and forcing the issue as a disruptor. Despite overwhelming physical tools, more of a finesse defender. Needs to develop a killer instinct as a tackler. Unique size and athleticism combination gives him versatility to be a chess piece as a traditional safety, linebacker, rover or even a situational edge rusher. Will be an impact Power Five starter that projects as a first round NFL Draft pick that offers versatility that we don’t see every year.
- Development at elite HS program
- Big play ability
- Can be more physical
- Man coverage
- Average speed
Note: changing this up from just a freshman-season outlook to a career outlook for each player.
As noted by both Ivins and Simmons, the expectation is that Williams will contribute on defense early, and emerge as a leader on defense by his sophomore or junior year. All-Conference and All-American honors are fully on the table for a player of Williams’s caliber, and with Miami’s success developing Safeties both historically and recently, that’s not a crazy thing to say.
It won’t be easy on Williams, however. Miami has recruited Safeties especially well over the past few years. But, even with other HS All-Americans on the roster at this position, Williams literally and metaphorically stands heads above the rest, and that should bear itself out to be true once Williams hits campus and begins his journey as a Hurricane.
That’s it for this installment of The Recruiting Notebook.