Before we know it, it’s going to be time for the 2020 NFL Draft under the bright lights of Las Vegas. Soon, all of our most pressing NFL Draft questions will be answered. But Pro Football Network is here to help you get a jump on that next class with our continuing look at the 2021 NFL Draft. Last week, I told you about Josh Johnson from UL-Monroe, and today, I’m here to tell you about another sleeper running back candidate, Kansas’s Pooka Williams.
There is a ton to like about Williams’ tape, but there are also many questions surrounding the talented Jayhawks product. What makes Williams a prime sleeper candidate? Let’s take a look!
Who is Anthony “Pooka” Williams?
Coming out of high school as a 4-star recruit, Anthony “Pooka” Williams was heavily pursued by some of the elite programs of college football. Williams had offers from SEC-elites like LSU, up-and-coming programs like Memphis, and the ever-storied UCLA Bruins. Yet Williams chose to make his way to Lawrence, Kansas, to play for the Kansas Jayhawks. And the Jayhawks have caught lightning in a bottle with their running back ever since.
Williams rushed for more than 1,100 yards in his freshman season for the Jayhawks on his way to numerous awards like Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year and First-Team All Big-12. Williams’ sophomore season was more of the same, as Williams was named to the preseason All Big-12 team and finished his sophomore campaign with another 1,000+ yard season.
Now, in his third year for the Jayhawks — and his second with famed head coach Les Miles — Williams looks to position himself as one of the best running backs that few are talking about for the 2021 NFL Draft class. Let’s take a look at what makes Williams a sleeper candidate for this running back class.
What makes Pooka Williams a 2021 NFL Draft Sleeper?
Every so often during the scouting process, you come across a prospect whose tape makes you audibly gasp. Maybe it’s the power of a defensive tackle or the inhuman bend of an EDGE rusher. In this case, it’s the incredible acceleration that Williams possesses. I lost count of how many times I gasped, hollered, and laughed at how Williams made opponents look as though they were moving in slow motion.
I mentioned in my first 2021 NFL Draft Sleepers piece that Josh Johnson was a one-cut-and-go running back with good acceleration to hit the hole. Williams takes that to an entirely different level. Clemson running back Travis Etienne is going to command a lot of attention in this class for his speed and acceleration — and deservedly so — but make no mistake about it, Williams is right up there with the best of them. The way he hits the hole and accelerates is truly special. Scouts are continually looking for what makes a prospect stand out, and I don’t know if anyone stands out more in this area than Williams.
Once Williams bursts through the hole like he was shot out of a cannon, he shows off another trait that’s nearly as impressive: his agility. It’s almost impossible to bring Williams down in the open field. He’s fast enough to run away from just about anyone on the field, and even if you have him dead-to-rights, one slick move from Williams, and you’re left looking silly. Williams has made the best of the Big 12 look stupid with their attempts to tackle him, even players like talented Texas safety, and potential top safety of the 2021 NFL Draft class, Caden Sterns.
With his speed, explosiveness, and agility, Williams is the kind of player you need to get out in space. The Kansas offense did this in many ways last season, and it leads us to our last point: Williams’ versatility. In today’s NFL, coaches are always looking for those players who cause match-up nightmares for their opponents. Williams is someone you can line up as a pass catcher in the backfield, the slot, or split him out as a wide receiver. His shiftiness and solid hands will quickly make him a great fit at the next level. However, Williams’ versatile nature elicits some drawbacks and concerns as well.
What’s holding Williams back?
Versatility is great, and it’s something that every scout and coach is looking for from today’s modern NFL skill player. But sometimes that versatility can be somewhat of a double-edged sword if it makes those coaches and scouts wonder what the player’s true position is at the next level.
There could be some of that at play with Williams as he’s evaluated for the 2021 NFL Draft. At just 5’10” and 170 pounds, there could be some concern about playing him at running back in the NFL. Teams may wonder if his slight frame can take the beating he’ll receive going up against professional defenses. That doubt could lead to some viewing Williams as more of a gadget player than an every-down running back.
However, the position concerns pale in comparison to the red flags that swirl around the RB prospect. Williams was involved in a domestic violence case in late 2018. In December of 2018, Williams was charged with misdemeanor battery in a domestic dispute where he was accused of punching a female partner in the stomach, among other accusations. Williams was suspended from the team during the investigation and was eventually granted a diversion in the case. Williams served a one game suspension for this at the start of the 2019 season as well.
Under the league’s new rules for Combine participation, Williams could find himself without an invite should he choose to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft. Williams is a Junior and may not declare, but being a running back, the chances are pretty good if he has a year on par with the past two seasons. If and when he does declare, the domestic violence charges are going to come back to light, and they may be enough for some teams to drop Williams from their board entirely.
For those who keep Williams on their board, he should make a dangerous option for an innovative coordinator. His combination of speed and agility should quietly make Williams one of the top running back sleepers in the 2021 NFL Draft class.
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