Rodarius Williams is just the tip of the iceberg of Jim Knowles' familiarity with the Giants organization.
Knowles knows it better than your typical Oklahoma State defensive coordinator, having coached Big Blue's sixth-round pick and gone against Daniel Jones and Eli Manning in practice during his previous posts at Duke and Ole Miss. Knowles, who has 30 years of college coaching experience, recently peeled back the layers on “Big Blue Kickoff Live” on Giants.com.
First up was Williams, or "Lee Lee" as he is called by those who know him. Knowles joined the Oklahoma State coaching staff in 2018, the year after Williams began his streak of 48 consecutive starts, which set the program record.
"Lee Lee is a guy who's going to show up every day for work," Knowles said of Williams, whose middle name is Lee and was given the nickname by his aunt. "That ability to maintain and be durable in our sport is a big deal. He fights through injuries. He seems to be a guy who handles the contact well and the aggressiveness of the game. He never complains. He's really the kind of player that you want to have on your team because you can count on him."
While Williams' consecutive starts streak is impressive, it's what he did in between them that caught the attention of the Giants. Williams' 31 career pass breakups rank sixth in school history and were fourth among FBS players active in 2020.
His vision, skills, and 6-foot, 195-pound frame certainly helped him rack up the stats. But, according to Knowles, something else sets him apart: He doesn't flinch.
"That happens to a lot of DBs -- where they're in great position, but at the end of the route, there's that little bit of flinch, that trip, that slip," Knowles said. "He has the ability to play through the hands to the end of the play. He has a very calm demeanor, and that's what you want out of a corner. He's very calm, very confident, never loses his composure. When you have a guy like that who has the skill but he [also] has that intensity and focus to finish the play, I think you've got a good player."
Age may play a factor in that.
Williams turns 25 on Sept. 12, the day the Giants open the 2021 season at home against the Denver Broncos. For reference, Williams is older than a lot of the players in the Giants' past three draft classes and a few in the previous four, including Saquon Barkley. He is also older than his brother, Andraez "Greedy" Williams (another nickname given to him by an aunt), who was a second-round pick by the Cleveland Browns in 2019.
"His maturity is a huge asset," Knowles said. "He's a little bit older than a normal rookie. It's definitely a plus because he has been through a lot in his life. He's overcome a lot personally, and I have seen his growth. I knew he had the talent from the beginning, but I have seen his growth as a mature young man who understands life and what it takes to succeed and the work that needs to go in. That lightbulb went on, so you're getting a guy who is ready-made and prepared to handle being a professional."
View photos of Giants sixth-round pick Rodarius Williams.
Williams is also older than Daniel Jones, the Giants' third-year franchise quarterback.
Knowles left for Stillwater, Okla., after an eight-year run at Duke, where he was an integral part in leading the Blue Devils to five bowl appearances in his last six years – a feat that had never previously been achieved at Duke. He was elevated to the role of assistant head coach immediately following the 2017 season.
As the opposing defensive coordinator in practice, Knowles knew they had something special from the time Jones ran the scout team offense as a true freshman.
"He drove me crazy," Knowles said. "As a true freshman, he put some balls in some places that were just outstanding. I would look at [Head Coach David] Cutcliffe and he's like, 'Yeah.' I wanted to yell at the defense. He showed right from the start his ability to place the ball where other people couldn't."
Knowles added: "[The deep ball] was noticeable. To be able to hit that skinny post or the dig 20-25 yards down the field with velocity and placement where only the receiver could catch it, you would shake your head sometimes. I would. As I'd be ripping the defense, deep down I'd be like, 'Wow, I hope we don't face a quarterback who can throw that ball.' A lot of times it was indefensible. I'm not an expert in arm strength, but I know from going against him all the time, accuracy, velocity, and placement always is hard to defend. He's got that."
At Duke, Knowles reunited with Cutcliffe, whom Giants fans know all about by now. Prior to Jones, Cutcliffe mentored Eli and Peyton Manning at his previous stops in Mississippi and Tennessee, respectively.
Knowles' first stint in major-conference football came in 2003, when he served as linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator under Cutcliffe during Eli Manning's final college season. Following his lone year in Oxford, Knowles returned to Cornell to be head coach of his alma mater.
"Really very similar guys," Knowles said of Jones and Eli Manning. "Quiet, confident, knowledgeable, always in control of their emotions and the situation. I was a huge fan of Eli and the same with Daniel. Going against those guys every day in practice, every defense has a hole in it, and they were always able to find it. I remember right when Eli ended up with the Giants, I became the head coach at Cornell, so I was in New York, and a lot of people were asking me about him. I said he will win you a Super Bowl if you give him time. That turned out to be correct, and I feel the same about Daniel. They're that guy that doesn't come along very often who has incredible talent but also knows how to manage an offense and handle the pressure. The pressure is something that can get everybody, and Daniel's a guy who always has balance and is a student of the game."
Photos from the career of two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback Eli Manning