Yes, there may not be a great chance that recently signed RB James Williams makes the final roster. The undrafted free agent seems to just be filling in for some current injuries and nothing more. Already being cut from Kansas City months ago wasn’t a promising sign, and the odds of making the final 53 are slim to none. But as the almighty Lloyd Christmas once pointed out, “there’s always a chance.” Thus, I took it upon myself to go back and revisit Williams’ Washington State tape.
Buckle up folks - he’s a fun watch.
The main reason so many draft analysts (including myself) were so high on Williams in the pre-draft process came from his ability to make an impact on all 3 downs. Thriving in Mike Leach’s air raid offence, Williams was a consistent target for QB Garner Minshew on early downs, excelling in an underneath role. Unstoppable on wheel routes and used consistently in the flat, Williams’ ability and experience in the passing game made him a perfect complementary RB at the next level - and what seemed like an appealing option for many pro teams. During his career with the Cougars, Williams was able to snag 202 balls for 1437 yards, posting an 83-613-4 receiving line in his final season.
Here we see Williams run a simple swing route out of the backfield. Minshew sees him wide open around the 7-yard mark but hesitates to throw. Eventually, Minshew rolls to his right and makes Williams catch a much tougher pass near the back of the end zone. The RB elevates and stretches to his farthest point for an incredible reception - all while getting a major blow to the back and keeping two feet in bounds.
This time we see more of a classic Mike Leach staple with the mesh wheel. Leach gets two wideouts running crossers and a third running a simple post to clear the boundary. Both RB’s fill the vacated areas and Williams can take advantage of the inside chaos. The LB assigned to Williams is caught flat-footed and has to hand off the coverage to the outside CB as a result. That split-second delay in switching responsibilities is all Williams needs to create a window. Minshew throws a dime and Williams can track the ball to perfection - resulting in a 30-yard completion.
It’s encouraging to see Williams excel and have a solid level of comfort with these basic designs. Despite being simplistic, these plays need to be executed crisply and with precision - something Williams is already well-versed in doing. Frank Reich has shown he likes to incorporate his RB’s in the passing game, so Williams’ experience in this regard can only be viewed as a positive.
Williams size (5’9”, 197 pounds) and marginal speed (4.58) are ultimately the main reason he was passed over on draft day. His lack of physical traits limits him in several areas, but he’s the type of player that does the most with what he’s got. Quicker than fast, Williams is a jitterbug in the open field, and his violent agility helps him in both route-running and bouncing outside runs. Meanwhile, the Cougar can still make his presence felt between the tackles, even if it isn’t his strong suit. Williams never goes down without a fight, and will constantly keep his feet churning no matter the situation. Slippery in nature, his ability to break tackles is a huge plus, and Williams broke several long runs at the collegiate level as a result.
The perfect example of Williams A+ effort and constant drive may just be the hardest play I’ve ever had to explain. Mike Leach loves his wacky designs - and well - wacky it was.
You know what, I’ll just let the play do the talking.
No matter how talented they are, rookie RB’s usually don’t see playing time for one simple reason - pass protection. As made clear by his catching skills, Williams isn’t your typical rookie. Sure, his size limits him against bigger and stronger rushers. But his high IQ and willingness to get dirty are both huge positives, which are evidenced below.
Here we see a pretty basic stunt with the left edge defender dropping and a blitzer coming from the right side. Every rusher shifts to the left to open up the C-gap, but Williams recognizes the shift right away and fills the opening. He proceeds to lower his shoulder and provide a nice “pop”, sealing the left edge of the offensive line. Before the snap you can even see Williams looking to his left, knowing the stunt is coming - showing off his quality diagnosing skills.
Loving this blitz pick up from James Williams (RB 32)— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) January 6, 2019
We'll see plenty of James White pro comps for him with his 202 career receptions but he can do more than just catch passes pic.twitter.com/bgvtWTQvmX
I understand that the odds Williams makes this team are a billion to one. Players signed off the streets just two weeks before final cuts are usually nothing more than roster fillers. Through re-visiting his college film, however, I can’t help but see a hidden gem with a complementary role future. Williams has been compared to New England RB James White on several occasions, and at this point, I still like that comparison. Even if he can become just a small portion of that - a stash on the practice squad is well worth the effort.