It wasn’t a surprise that the former NFL running back ranked New York Giants rusher Saquon Barkley first on his list. Over 2,000 scrimmage yards and an Offensive Rookie of the Year award speak volumes.
New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara made sense at number two. Le’Veon Bell — now with the New York Jets — was listed third. Dallas Cowboys fans might have had their noses a little out of joint with Ezekiel Elliott ranked fourth, but that doesn’t seem way off the mark. Carolina Panthers back Christian McCaffrey rounded out the top five.
But Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams at 20th?
Williams appeared in all 16 games, with three starts to close out the 2018 regular season, totaling 256 yards and four touchdowns on 50 carries. A contributor in the ground game and as a pass catcher, Williams really stepped up when the Chiefs appeared to be in a tough spot at the position following the release of Kareem Hunt. After proving to be an asset, Williams signed a two-year extension late in the year. I’m interested to see how Williams handles the pressure of being a starting back for an entire regular season. Luckily for him, Patrick Mahomes’ arm attracts most of the attention from opposing defenses.
Let’s give Jones-Drew his Jones-due: with nine years in the league (and a rushing title in 2011), he has the qualifications to speak with authority about running backs. We should give him credit for recognizing Williams did indeed step up for the Chiefs at the end of the 2018 season, which is more than many other national voices have done. And Jones-Drew is right to point out that this will be the first time during his five years in the league that Williams will have to carry the load for a full season.
But still... c’mon, man!
Williams won’t be playing in just any offense in 2019. He’ll be playing in Andy Reid’s offense, where history shows running backs can thrive — particularly those who can catch the ball out of the backfield. In the regular season, Williams caught 23 of his 24 targets. Pro Football Focus noted that in the red zone, Williams was terrific — running for a first down or a touchdown on 47% of his attempts. In his five games as a starter — including two playoff games — he averaged 5.2 yards per rush, 8.8 yards per catch, and scored eight touchdowns.
Those kinds of numbers don’t guarantee that Williams will be among the league’s top backs in 2019; it makes no sense to argue that he should be listed among the likes of Barkley, Kamara, Bell, Elliott and McCaffrey.