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Marlon Williams Is Poised for a Big Senior Season in 2020

Williams emerged as a major threat to defenses in the final seven games of 2019

UCF WR Marlon Williams
UCF WR Marlon Williams
Photo: Derek Warden

UCF Knights WR Marlon Williams really broke out in the final seven games of the 2019 season - something that was due to happen once he was given the opportunity.

Williams, who will be a senior in 2020, played his true freshman season under Scott Frost. On a team that featured receiving options such as Tre’quan Smith, Jordan Akins, Gabe Davis (then also a freshman), Dredrick Snelson, Jordan Franks, Michael Colubiale, and Otis Anderson, Williams still finished 7th on the team in receptions and made a significant impact.

Marlon Williams’ 2017 Stats

Depth of Pass Targets Catches Drops Succesful Plays Success % Success Rate % On Catches only YBC YBC/Rec YAC YAC/Rec YAR YAR/Rec
Depth of Pass Targets Catches Drops Succesful Plays Success % Success Rate % On Catches only YBC YBC/Rec YAC YAC/Rec YAR YAR/Rec
-5 to LOS 4 4 0 4 100.00% 100.00% 33 8.25 8 2 41 10.25
1-5 3 3 0 3 100.00% 100.00% 2 0.67 16 5.33 18 6
6-10 5 2 1 2 40.00% 100.00% 0 0 0 0 0 0
11-15 2 1 0 1 50.00% 100.00% 1 1 0 0 1 1
16-20 3 3 0 3 100.00% 100.00% 2 0.67 11 3.67 13 4.33
21+ 4 2 2 2 50.00% 100.00% 12 6 6 3 18 9
Total 21 15 3 15 71.43% 100.00% 50 3.33 41 2.73 91 6.07

Williams actually had 17 receptions (my data doesn’t include the FIU and Austin Peay games from that season), but regardless his production as a true freshman was evident.

He led the receivers in yards after contact and success rate.

Heading into 2018, I expected Williams to gain a bigger role. He showed how effective he was in a limited (but expected) role as a freshman.

However, if you look at his sophomore season table:

Marlon Williams’ 2018 Stats

Depth of Pass Targets Catches Drops Succesful Plays Success % Success Rate % On Catches only YBC YBC/Rec YAC YAC/Rec YAR YAR/Rec
Depth of Pass Targets Catches Drops Succesful Plays Success % Success Rate % On Catches only YBC YBC/Rec YAC YAC/Rec YAR YAR/Rec
-5 to LOS 4 4 0 4 100.00% 100.00% 33 8.25 8 2 41 10.25
1-5 3 3 0 3 100.00% 100.00% 2 0.67 16 5.33 18 6
6-10 5 2 1 2 40.00% 100.00% 0 0 0 0 0 0
11-15 2 1 0 1 50.00% 100.00% 1 1 0 0 1 1
16-20 3 3 0 3 100.00% 100.00% 2 0.67 11 3.67 13 4.33
21+ 4 2 2 2 50.00% 100.00% 12 6 6 3 18 9
Total 21 15 3 15 71.43% 100.00% 50 3.33 41 2.73 91 6.07

You’ll notice only one more target, but still insanely high production with a ~63% success rate.

Now, UCF still had Davis, Snelson, and Tre Nixon at WR, so still a ton of talent, but with a guy as versatile as Williams it was tough to see him not get that opportunity bump that he probably deserved.

With Snelson leaving early for the draft, the slot position was now seemingly wide open for Williams in 2019.

Halfway through the season, Williams was finally given the opportunity to consistently produce for UCF’s offense and the numbers that would follow were incredible.

If you look at Marlon’s passing play splits, they’re staggering.

Prior to the ECU game, Marlon was only on the field for 42.6% of pass plays. From ECU on, he was on the field for 86.5% of pass plays. His snap rate essentially doubled half way through the season.

The change? Tight end usage. UCF used 11, 12, or 21 personnel groupings on 75.15% of pass plays prior to ECU, but dropped to 48.31% from the ECU game on. Josh Heupel really likes using a tight end, mostly just for protection purposes, but occasionally in the passing game as well. He used a TE ~90% of plays in his final season at Mizzou and more or less kept that philosophy even with the personnel change at UCF.

From the ECU game on, he adjusted, and it allowed Marlon Williams to prove his worth.

Prior to ECU, Williams had eight meaningful targets (less than 1.5 per game). He ended the season with ~57 targets.

His season numbers looked a little like this:

  • 57 Targets
  • 45 Catchable
  • 3 Drops
  • 9 Contested Catches
Marlon Williams TD catch vs. Stanford
Marlon Williams catches a 28-yard TD pass from Dillon Gabriel in UCF’s 45-27 win over Stanford on September 14, 2019.
ESPN
  • 49.12% success rate
  • 36.4818 Total EPA (0.64/Target)
  • 43.032 Total EPA on Catches + Drops (take out uncatchable passes - not on WR) (0.956/Per)
  • 11 Missed Tackles Forced
Marlon Williams Marshall catch
Williams’ 18-yard reception from Gabriel in the 1st quarter of UCF’s 48-25 win over Marshall in the Gasparilla Bowl
ESPN
  • 107 yards after contact, 364 YAR
Marlon Williams’ 75-yard TD reception
Marlon Williams’ 75-yard TD reception vs. Marshall in the Gasparilla Bowl
ESPN

Just incredible size, speed, strength, and hands.

Obviously, if you’re reading this, you know how much Gabriel Davis meant to UCF’s passing attack in 2019 and that he’ll be playing on Sunday next season.

UCF 2019 Target Share
UCF 2019 Market Share

If you look at UCF’s target and market share from 2019, you see that Davis was responsible for 32.3% of UCF’s targets and 33.4% of their receiving yards. Both of these are huge numbers for UCF to replace in 2020.

Now, a big reason why Tre Nixon’s and Gabe Davis’ shares are so big is due to the fact that Heupel never subbed out the two outside guys, while Marlon, Jacob Harris and Otis Anderson Jr. all rotated in the slot for either one or two possessions.

Marlon Williams established himself as the third guy in UCF’s passing attack last season, which would lead you to believe he might take over a large part of Gabe Davis’ market share.

For fun, I decided to average out Marlon’s numbers per target for 122 targets (Gabe’s number of targets not including penalties). Interestingly, Marlon’s numbers are better than Gabe’s in every single category.

Now, Marlon was mostly lined up against nickelbacks and safeties, which is a mismatch almost every snap, while Gabe was defenses’ #1 focal point. So no, I’m not saying Marlon is better than Gabe. However, it simply shows just how impressive of a season Marlon had and how good he is - and he really only played legit snaps in seven games.

Whether Williams takes over the vacant outside position is something we’ll have to wait and see about, but with his passing down snap rate jumping to 86% the final seven games of 2019, we can expect him to be a major part of the 2020 passing attack.

He showed he’s worthy of it rounding out the 2019 season, and as a senior, with ~35% of the Knights’ receiving production leaving, he’s poised for a huge year.