Kyren Williams is a visionary — and he sees a bright future.
So, when the draftniks pigeon-hole the Notre Dame standout as simply a “third-down back” at the NFL level, he disagrees. He takes it personally. He sees something different.
“I don’t like hearing that, when I hear that I would emphasize me being an all-down back, me being able to get in the slot on first and second down and on third down if you need me to run inside the tackles, outside the tackles or even pass [protection] — I can do that, too,’’ he said. “I see myself as a complete back on all downs, being able to do it all.’’
The 5-foot-9-inch, 194-pound Williams has been dynamic and productive during a two-year stretch in South Bend in which he amassed nearly 2,800 yards from scrimmage and 31 touchdowns in 24 games.
Though he had two years of eligibility remaining, Williams surprised some by forgoing them and entering the NFL Draft. Even more were surprised when Williams turned in a subpar performance at the Scouting Combine, posting disappointing numbers across the board, including a 4.65 in the 40-yard dash, a 32-inch vertical jump, and a 9-foot-8-inch, broad jump.
Williams’s stock plummeted among many of the prognosticators. He went from a surefire Day 2 pick to a late rounder. Though those who watched Williams’s tape closely weren’t nearly as concerned because he possesses intangibles that can’t be plugged into a spreadsheet to help come up with a final grade.
Williams has exceptional instincts, vision, and feel. He uses his compact body to his advantage by running low and with great balance, allowing him to avoid contact. Williams also can absorb and bounce off hits and gain extra yards.
“Kyren Williams is underrated,’’ said ESPN NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper. “People are going to look at that 40 time — it doesn’t matter. Emmitt Smith ran like a 4.58, 4.6. I don’t care about 40 times for running backs. The quickness, the instincts, the vision, the breaking tackles, blocking, catching. Kyren Williams is a good football player.’’
Watching Williams play, it’s hard to not to draw comparisons with James White. They’re similar in stature and style. White has built a career on being reliable in all facets: running, receiving, and blocking. He’s been a player that can be plugged into any situation and Williams believes he has those same qualities.
“I see myself as a football player, a complete running back, being able to come out of the slot or the backfield and being able to catch the ball,’’ he said. “I’ve been doing that since I was playing in high school, I was a receiver before I was a running back, so that’s something I definitely have in my toolbox. I really pride myself on it, it can really separate me from everybody else in this draft to have those skills as a running back.’’
Williams is an exceptionally tough runner — especially considering his comparative lack of size. It’s a quality he believes he developed during his early days on the gridiron.
“I was defensive player before I was an offensive player growing up,’’ Williams said. “I was a middle linebacker in high school, so I don’t shy away from contact because I know the way that they’re coming at me.
“It’s a mentality, it’s a big-on-big type of thing. I’m going to assert my dominance and let them I know I’m going to be there every single play, whether I’m trying to run you over or it’s pass pro, it doesn’t matter.’’
The Patriots, who met with Williams at the Combine, have solid depth at running back with Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, White, and J.J. Taylor. However, adding a player with Williams’s skill-set with a middle-round pick could make a lot of sense for a number of reasons, because things can change quickly at the position.
Running backs take a pounding, so depth and rotations are vital to guard against injuries. Harris is in the final year of his contract, White is coming off a major hip injury, and Taylor has yet to prove he can consistently contribute.
Williams, who describes his running form as “freestyle,” could fit right into New England’s schemes.
“I always say I bring that dominant mind-set, I want you to know that I’m there, I want you to feel me,’’ he said. “So if I see the opportunity, I’m going try and run you over so that you know that I’m coming each and every time and if I see you again, then I’m going try to make you miss.’’
The top running backs
The top running backs available in the April 28-30 NFL Draft, with name, college, height, weight, and projected round.
Kenneth Walker III, Michigan St., 5-9, 211, 1-2
Was a solid contributor for two seasons before really breaking out in 2021 with 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns on 263 carries. Walker has an explosive first step and runs with the agility to make defenders miss and the power to run them over. Was tops in FBS with 1,168 yards after first contact. Will need to refine his receiving and blocking skills to become an every-down back.
Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M, 6-0, 217, 2-3
Possesses the size of a power back and the nimbleness of a speed back. Spiller has good pre-snap recognition and rarely misses a lane. Very durable player, he played 35 straight games for the Aggies, finishing his career just shy of 3,000 rushing yards with 25 TDs. Also had 74 catches for 585 yards. Runs a bit upright, leaving him susceptible to big hits, but he’ll be able to shake that habit.
Tyler Allgeier, BYU, 5-11, 224, 3
Solidly built runner put together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, including a 1,601-yard campaign in 2021. He has excellent vision and will string multiple moves together to avoid would-be tacklers. Collected 37 total TDs in 32 career games for the Cougars. Didn’t have a ton of catches (46) but is a natural pass catcher and will get plenty of reps on checkdowns and designed screens.
Breece Hall, Iowa St., 5-11, 217, 3
The two-time consensus All-American rushed for 3,941 yards and a school-record 50 TDs in 36 games for the Cyclones. Has a patient running style somewhat reminiscent of Le’Veon Bell. Will dip his shoulder and drive through defenders and always falls forward. Might be No. 1 on this list if he hadn’t put on so many miles on the tires the last three years (800 touches). Needs to get better at pass protection.
James Cook, Georgia, 5-11, 199, 3
The younger brother of Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook, James is another patient runner who lets his blocks set up and blasts through the openings. Had nearly 300 touches in college and fumbled only twice. Good receiver out of the backfield with 67 catches for 730 yards (10.9-yard average) and 6 TDs. Wasn’t asked to block much and will need to learn that skill.
BEST OF THE REST
Brian Robinson, Alabama (6-2, 225); Zamir White, Georgia (6-0, 214); Kyren Williams, Notre Dame (5-9, 194); Dameon Pierce, Florida (5-10, 218); Tyrion Davis-Price, LSU (6-0, 211); Abram Smith, Baylor (6-0, 213); Snoop Conner, Ole Miss (5-10, 222); Pierre Strong, South Dakota St. (5-11, 207); Keaontay Ingram, Southern Cal (6-0, 221).