With their fifth-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills added yet another Williams to their roster, this one being Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams. Can he find a roster spot in a crowded backfield?
Williams was born in Dallas, and attended Allen High School as a running back. A four-star recruit, he committed to Arkansas in part due to their history of producing great running backs.
Williams played as a true freshman, with two starts, but he emerged as a full-time starter in 2013. As a sophomore, he carried the ball 150 times for 900 yards with four touchdowns. As a junior, Williams was one half of one of the nation's deadliest rushing attacks, with 1,190 yards, 12 touchdowns, and a 5.6 yards-per-carry average. His teammate, sophomore Alex Collins, contributed 1,100 yards, 12 touchdowns, and a 5.4-yard average of his own.
Returning for his senior season, Williams was voted a captain and placed on a number of preseason watch lists, but that ended when he tore a ligament in his foot during an August scrimmage. The injury sidelined him for the entirety of the 2015 season. Williams spent the year rehabbing, watching film, and finishing his degree in Communication. Now? He's hungry to return to the field.
Standing 5'11" and weighing 220 pounds, Williams is a solid, powerfully-built running back. He also has surprisingly good agility for his size, with a 4.63-second 40-yard dash, a 6.97-second three-cone drill, and a 4.29-second short shuttle at his pro day. Those numbers come with an asterisk attached, because Williams missed so much time from his injury. The foot injury bothered him all the way through the Senior Bowl (which he attended but could not play in) and the NFL Combine (which he could only attempt the bench press at). A month later he finally worked out at his pro day, but there's fair reason to believe that he can be a little faster and a little more agile once he's back into game condition.
Speed, elusiveness, and balance
Williams is not a burner, and he isn't going to juke his way through the whole defense, but he's made his name and built up a healthy collection of highlight reels thanks to the elusive way he plays the game. He can make fake moves with his body to mess with a defender's angle, he has good form on his cuts, and he uses choppy steps to avoid being ankle tackled. What's most impressive about Williams is his balance. He reminds me a lot of Josh Robinson, a 2015 rookie who was more athletically limited, but similarly hard to take down. He has a great feel for shrugging off would-be tackles as glancing blows, and he can spin or put a hand down to retain his momentum and continue the run.
Williams doesn't have the top gear necessary to stretch runs much further than 30 or 40 yards. This is something that concerns me a bit, because he has shown a preference for stretching plays to the sideline in the past (something I'll mention below), and I don't think he's fast enough to make that work in the NFL.
Power and tackle-breaking
As you'd expect from a 220-pound running back, Williams has the power to carry a defender for a couple extra yards after the initial hit. He has a good stiff-arm and understands how to lower his head and follow a blocker in short yardage situations. His keen balance also helps his power, allowing him to generate impressive push even from awkward body positions. He will surprise at times with the way he can keep moving once the ball is in his hands.
Vision and decision-making
Williams can be better at recognizing the flow of a play and understanding where his blocks will open up. At times, I've seen him become impatient, bouncing runs to the sideline trying to find more daylight. Instead of squeezing forward for two yards, he loses one being tackled on the run. He does a good job of following his blocks on the inside of the line, and has nice vision in the open field, but I think he could develop more maturity to press a gap, set up the defense, then cut back and take advantage of a created opening.
Carrying, catching, and protection
I do worry about Williams' fumble potential. He lost five of them in 2014, and part of the problem is that he's a runner who uses broken tackles and jump cuts to extend plays beyond where they would be expected to end. Similar to Fred Jackson, when Williams shoves past a defender, it creates another opportunity to lose the ball. His carrying technique is solid, but he needs to improve his grip on the ball.
As a receiver, Williams isn't too bad. He grabbed 26 receptions in three seasons, and turned six of those into touchdowns. He's mainly good for catching swing passes out of the backfield, but can use his agility and balance to break open big plays on occasion.
Williams was pretty reliable as a pass protector at Arkansas, holding up well against most defenders and engaging them head-on. His cut blocking technique left something to be desired, as he sometimes can execute too quickly and fail to trip up his defender. Overall, I like his potential in this department.
In selecting Williams, the Bills were likely looking at the best player available on their board. While the team didn't have a pressing need for another running back, the player was considered by many to be a potential second-round pick before his injury, and Buffalo's offense is powered by having a reliable stable of running backs. Williams is a bit behind the eight ball for this team, needing to compete with Mike Gillislee for a roster spot (or play enough special teams to justify his spot as the fourth running back on the roster), but if his year of film review gave him a better understanding of the decision-making process, the Bills may have found themselves another Jackson.