There are few “every down” running backs left in the NFL. More and more, running backs are rotated on and off the field to fit skill sets to specific needs based on down, distance, and situation. Teams are also finding productive runners later in the draft, and don’t see as much value in selecting them early.
There might not be any runners selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, but that doesn’t mean this class doesn’t have useful running backs in it. In fact, there are runners to fit almost any need an NFL offense may have.
Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams fits the image of a shifty scatback almost to a “T”, and could appeal to a pass-heavy offense that doesn’t mind an undersized runner.
The New York Giants have quietly been scouting running backs heavily this year. We don’t know exactly what kind of runner they are looking for, or how running backs will be used in their new offense. Could Williams’ skill set fit their needs?
Prospect: Kyren Williams (23)
Games Watched: vs. Florida State (2021), vs. Purdue (2021), vs. Southern California (2021), vs. North Carolina (2021)
Games Played: 26
Yards (YPC): 2,153 (5.1 per carry)
Yards (YPC): 675 (8.7 per catch)
Total Touchdowns (rushing/receiving): 31 (27 rushing, 4 receiving)
Games Played: 12
Yards (YPC): 1,002 (4.9 per carry)
Yards (YPC): 359 (8.5 per catch)
Total Touchdowns (rushing/receiving): 17 (14 rushing, 3 receiving)
Best: Quickness, agility, vision, contact balance, receiving, competitive toughness
Worst: Long speed, size
Projection: An important rotational runner in a West Coast or Spread offense.
Kyren Williams is a compact but quick, versatile, and tough running back prospect from Notre Dame.
Williams typically aligned next to the quarterback in Notre Dame’s shotgun-based offense, though at times he also motioned into the slot position.
Williams runs with good tempo behind the line of scrimmage, approaching the line with patience and control. He does a very good job of setting up his blockers and giving them time to establish their blocks. Williams pairs his patience with very good field vision, allowing him to see holes as they develop and anticipate defenders at the first and second levels of the defense. He follows his patient approach up with a quick burst through the hole, challenging defenders’ angles and allowing him to pick up quick yardage.
Williams has excellent contact balance, owing in part to his short stature and powerful lower body. He has the ability to run through arm tackles without losing momentum and bounce off shoulder checks. He does a great job of widening his base and dropping his hips as he changes direction, improving his already impressive balance. Williams also has very impressive stop-start quickness, allowing him to force defenders to miss in close quarters.
He is a reliable receiver as both a check-down option and as a part of passing concepts. Williams runs solid routes – though his route tree doesn’t appear to be terribly diverse – and does a good job of catching the ball. He presents a square target to his quarterback as a check-down option and is fearless catching the ball over the middle.
Williams is also a very capable, and aggressive, pass protector. He fully understands his role in the blocking scheme and is constantly on the lookout for work. Williams attacks defenders as a blocker, routinely coming up to meet them and deliver blows instead of trying to absorb rushes. He is capable of disrupting much larger defenders’ rushes despite his own lack of size.
That said, his lack of size does show up in several areas of his game. Williams is tough for defenders to bring down with poor form, but he is relatively easily tackled by players with good tackling form. Similarly, he simply is not a “power” runner who can run over defenders, and he has a very limited catch radius as a receiver.
Williams is also best described as “quicker than fast”. He is quick out of his cuts and reaches his top speed quickly, but he also lacks great long speed. Williams is vulnerable to being run down from behind by athletic defenders, and is only able to maintain his initial separation for short bursts.
Overall Grade: 7.7
Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams projects as an important rotational running back for a team that bases its offense in Spread or West Coast principles. Additionally, Williams would likely be best utilized out of a zone blocking scheme. Zone schemes would allow Williams to make the best use of his vision, quickness, and cut-back ability.
Williams has the type of athleticism that isn’t easily measured but shows up on tape. He specializes in solving problems in real time, using vision, balance, and quickness to pick his way through the first and second levels of a defense. He doesn’t have the long speed to run away from a defense, but teams that can get him the ball in space will be rewarded with chunk plays.
Williams’ toughness also stands out on tape. He is a better pass protector than runners who are 30 pounds heavier, and he routinely finishes his runs by lowering his shoulder into defenders. That kind of aggression and competitive toughness will almost certainly appeal to coaches and make him a fan favorite.
Teams might question whether Williams can handle a full workload at the NFL level, though he does have a relatively dense build at 5-foot-9, 193 pounds. He will likely begin his career as a “third down back”, thanks to his quickness, receiving ability, and upside as a pass blocker. Where he goes from there will depend on the situation into which he is drafted.