Avery Williams Oct 16, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons cornerback Avery Williams (35) returns a kick against the San Francisco 49ers in the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Avery Williams was a vital part of the Atlanta Falcons’ special teams in 2022. He emerged as one of the best punt returners in football and was a key contributor to a rebuilding roster that head coach Arthur Smith looks to have on the right track

But as the Falcons get through their offseason workouts (mandatory minicamp) and look to get ready for the season, they’ll be without Williams for a while.

Smith announced on Wednesday that Williams would be ruled out for the 2023 NFL season after suffering a non-contact knee injury in practice last week. Williams tore his ACL during the team’s open practice at Mercedes-Benz Stadium last week. And was immediately helped off the field to the locker room. Now, the Falcons officially have a diagnosis, which isn’t exactly a good one.

The news of Williams’ season-ending injury was met with a lot of angst.

Williams, a former 2021 fifth-round pick out of Boise State, had a huge year in Atlanta in 2022. He was one of the most consistent punt returners in the NFL last season, as he led the league in return yards, averaging 16.2 yards per punt return. Williams’ league-high average was three yards more than the next punt returner’s average—Tramon Smith of the Houston Texans—at 13.2. Williams had three returns of 20-plus yards, one return of 40-plus yards and a long return of 56 yards. 

Williams began his professional career as a cornerback before the Falcons eventually moved him to running back. He had 22 carries for 109 yards with a rushing touchdown in 17 games last season.

Teams try to be as cautious with players as they can be during training camp, especially when those players, like Williams, have already likely secured roster spots. Unfortunately, a non-contact injury has spelled the end of 2023 for Williams. And the Falcons will be on the hunt for a replacement, whether that’s internally or externally remains to be seen.

[Tori McElhaney on Twitter; photo from Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports]

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.