There’s nothing good about the injury to Kansas City Chiefs starting running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire: a knee injury that occurred during an awkward tackle in the Week 5 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
He was heating up as a ball carrier, with consecutive 100-yard performances in Weeks 3 and 4 — but he’ll be sidelined for at least the next three weeks; on Tuesday, the team placed him on its Reserve/Injured list.
The only silver lining is an opportunity for the team’s longest-tenured running back: Darrel Williams. Since making the practice squad as an undrafted rookie in 2018, Williams has progressively become more and more involved in the offense. In fact, he made his first career start in last year’s postseason, substituting for an injured Edwards-Helaire — and racking up 94 yards from scrimmage — in the Divisional round victory over the Cleveland Browns.
When he went undrafted three years ago, he and his family shared the disappointment. To this point, Williams has allowed it to fuel him — and his family couldn’t be happier.
“They’re very, very excited,” Williams told reporters on Wednesday. “This is big for my mom and dad; the day I wasn’t drafted, the look in my parents’ eyes — seeing my mom cry — that meant something special to me. I had never seen my mom cry... I just took that to heart, and now I have to make the most of this opportunity — just for her.”
Unlike his start in last year’s playoffs, this won’t be him filling in for one week; Williams could be relied upon for a stretch of three games — or even more. He’s ready to take the reins.
“It would mean a lot to me,” Williams admitted. “I worked my whole life to be a starter in this league. I got this opportunity. Now I just have to take advantage of it.”
The career backup has a lot to prove. After the season, Williams will be an unrestricted free agent, meaning he’ll be on the open market for any team to sign. An impressive performance could lead to a boost in his stock as a free agent.
Fortunately, he’s been prepared to take starting reps; he said running backs coach Greg Lewis has made sure of that.
“No preparation change at all,” Williams assured his listeners. “Greg Lewis coaches all the running backs to be starters — even when you’re on the practice squad — because you never know what could happen. Anything could happen. It’s football.”
Even if he’s not constantly ripping off big runs, Williams has had a significant role on the Chiefs for multiple seasons. For much of 2020, the team trusted him as third-down back because of his ability as a pass blocker. He’s also shown he can catch passes — and is a tough runner who is hard to bring down.
“Personally, I feel like I can do anything,” Williams said confidently. “Short yardage, catching out of the backfield, I feel like I’m an all-around back.”
After going undrafted in 2018, there was no guarantee that Williams would ever be in this position. But it’s clear what he has always envisioned for himself — as evidenced by the confidence he recalled from three years ago.
“I never had one doubt in my mind,” he said.