He was one of the best running backs in the nation in 2020. Notre Dame RB Kyren Williams returned as not only a CFB standout, but an exhilarating prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft. Williams’ scouting report is flush with potential, and as he showed in 2020 and 2021, he can be a dynamic, versatile weapon for an offense. How does Williams win, and how does he project to the NFL?
Kyren Williams NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Running Back
- School: Notre Dame
- Current Year: Redshirt Sophomore
- Height: 5’9″
- Weight: 195 pounds
Kyren Williams Scouting Report
Running backs don’t always get their due respect on the draft circuit. The “running backs don’t matter” movement has contributed to this in recent years. The movement, as controversial as it may be, is not without merit. Running backs are more replaceable than other positions by virtue of their skill set. They’re also fairly dependent on the offensive line in front of them.
That said, there are rare traits coveted each year — explosiveness, vision, and contact balance. Running backs with these traits, in conjunction with one another, can maximize opportunities given to them by their blocking units. Additionally, running backs with receiving ability provide heightened value and utility in multiple phases. It’s not that running backs aren’t important, it’s just that, to be unique, you have to have an uncommon trait — Williams may very well fit this description.
Williams’ athletic profile
Williams stands at 5’9″, 195 pounds. Physically, he doesn’t fit the workhorse mold that some former Notre Dame RBs — like Josh Adams and Dexter Williams — have filled in the past. Nevertheless, Williams produced like a workhorse in his college career, and he has an amalgamation of traits that demands he receives ample opportunities.
First and foremost, Williams is a stellar athlete. The Notre Dame RB possesses great explosiveness downfield, and strong short-area burst. He’s explosive and shifty out of cuts, and light on his feet. His direction changes are smooth and sudden, and he transfers his weight effortlessly when eluding tacklers. Furthermore, Williams owns exceptional lateral twitch and agility, and his hips are fluid in space. He can disrupt tackling angles and extend plays with his ability to shift directions laterally.
As exciting as Williams is in short ranges, he works best in space. He has the long speed to separate from congestion and spread the field, owning excellent stop-and-start ability. Additionally, Williams’ loose hips provide him value in space. He can employ jukes and rock-steps while maintaining speed, and these moves can be devastating for unprepared defenders.
Execution beyond the physical traits
Williams is agile and explosive, but he maximizes his physical foundation with intangible traits. The Notre Dame RB has good footwork, approaching holes with solid vision both at the line and at the second level. He flashes anticipation with his cuts, and he can divert course quickly as plays develop.
In addition to his vision and footwork, Williams is a steely competitor. In fact, one of the most impressive parts of Williams’ scouting report might be his ability in pass protection. The Notre Dame RB is a willing blocker who throws himself at defenders. He keeps his eyes and feet active when protecting the quarterback, and he’s not afraid to step in and take on the full force of a blitzing linebacker. With his short-area burst, he patrols the pocket as a blocker, and he takes pride in protecting his QB.
As his blocking utility proves, Williams is an all-out competitor that’s fairly versatile. He has stellar leg churn through contact. Moreover, he plays with exceptional lean and isn’t too upright as a runner, which allows him to create force with his burst. Williams also became a dynamic receiving threat in 2021. He can run routes, use deception, and adjust midair for passes.
Areas for improvement
Williams is an NFL Draft highlight factory with his burst and agility. However, as exciting as he is, he’s not an entirely universal playmaker — at least not yet. Williams’ frame isn’t powerful or forceful, and he doesn’t consistently work through contact. Although his explosiveness can be a viable conduit, the Notre Dame RB doesn’t bring a ton of momentum when lowering his shoulder. He has a reasonably compact frame and does flash contact balance occasionally, but he can build himself up a bit more.
At this point, even if he shows it in flashes, Williams doesn’t have overwhelming contact balance. When met with hits at the line, he doesn’t quite have the tools to turn losses into gains. And although he can prolong the inevitable with his agility, Williams tends to work backward to stay on his feet. In doing so, he only digs a deeper hole for himself, sacrificing yardage trying to avoid direct contact.
Because of his inconsistency against contact, Williams needs a little bit of space to gear up and evaluate his options. Additionally, while he possesses good vision, he sometimes goes on auto-pilot when approaching the trenches, counting on his explosiveness to carve out a path. He can prematurely lower his shoulder at times as well. This lessens his balance downfield and makes him easier to bring down.
Williams’ NFL Draft scouting report overview
Dynamic ability is never out of style on the offensive side of the ball. Williams no doubt has that going his way in 2021. He can be surgical with how he blasts through thin spaces for solid gains. His mix of explosiveness, agility, and toughness enables him to maximize space whenever he finds it. Although he only has decent contact balance at best, his ability to torpedo downfield and extend his rushing area is exceptional.
It’s not a perfect comparison by any means — few comparisons are — but some aspects of Williams’ scouting report echo Los Angeles Chargers star Austin Ekeler. His short and energetic strides, his torrid short-range explosiveness, and his loose hips in space are all reminiscent of the former undrafted free agent from Western State. They’re very similar size-wise as well — relatively small but compact — and their competitive demeanors carry identical appeal. Ekeler is a bit denser, but Williams is close.
Even more exciting in the Williams-Ekeler comparison is Williams’ 2021 breakout as a receiving threat. He has quick, creative releases as a receiver, and he’s a dangerous run-after-catch threat with his traits. If Williams can add a few pounds to his frame and improve his contact balance, he can be a truly game-changing threat on offense. And on top of that, his blocking prowess and classic “lunch pail” mentality are sure to win over coaches.
Kyren Williams Player Profile
Running backs and offensive linemen have a symbiotic relationship of sorts, but it’s no secret that the offensive line has an added importance. Notre Dame has an especially strong reputation for developing linemen, so rarely does a running back pass up the chance to play behind Brian Kelly’s front.
Williams was presented with that opportunity in 2019. Ranked as a four-star recruit in the 2019 class on ESPN, Williams received scholarship offers from several Power Five schools, including Arkansas, Iowa, Iowa State, and Wisconsin. Furthermore, Williams could have also remained in-state to play with the Missouri Tigers. In the end, all other offers paled in comparison to Notre Dame football, and soon enough, Williams found himself in South Bend.
Kyren Williams’ career at Notre Dame
Williams came to Notre Dame with a frame ready for college football. He boasted a 34.5-inch vertical out of high school before taking on college training programs, so his natural athleticism generated excitement. Even so, Williams had to wait a bit for his chance to start at Notre Dame. In his first season, the Missouri native only carried the ball 4 times for 26 yards. He kept his redshirt eligibility as a result, returning in 2020 as a redshirt freshman.
Ahead of the 2020 season, Williams earned the starting running back role for the Fighting Irish. Expectations were high for a Notre Dame offense with long-time starter Ian Book and three future 2021 NFL Draft picks on the line. But at the end of the year, Williams, the newly anointed starter, ended up being one of the most exciting pieces of Notre Dame’s playoff squad.
Williams broke 1,000 yards, rushing for 1,125 yards and 13 touchdowns on 211 carries. He also accrued 313 yards and a score on 35 receptions, showing off his receiving upside. For his efforts, Williams earned second-team All-ACC honors. Additionally, he garnered recognition as a Freshman All-American and won ACC Rookie of the Year.
Williams had another solid season in 2021. The Notre Dame RB collected 995 yards and 14 scores on 204 carries. He also caught 42 passes for 359 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Williams’ NFL Draft ascension
As he moves into 2022, Williams’ draft stock is an interesting topic. You won’t often see him in the first round of mock drafts, but Williams is an exciting talent, and there are very few red flags in his profile. He was able to sustain his success behind a Notre Dame offensive line that lost Liam Eichenberg, Aaron Banks, and Robert Hainsey. As good as Williams is, he needs some space to work with. But he proved that he could stay steady in 2021, and he also earned more confidence as a receiver.
Williams possesses the explosiveness and agility to withstand adversity and create for himself. If he can add more weight to his frame, he could improve his contact balance and become a complete back. As it stands, however, Williams is a dynamic threat with a contagious, competitive mentality. It’s only a matter of time before he has a similar impact on Sundays.
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