With their first pick on the final day of the NFL Draft, the Kansas City Chiefs dipped into the vast pool of Division II athletes, taking cornerback Joshua Williams out of Fayetteville State University with the No. 135 pick in the fourth round.
Given the competition level, projecting how a Division II athlete may perform at the NFL level can sometimes be a tall task. But when Chiefs’ senior college scouting executive David Hinson went out to see Williams, it was easy to see he had the measurables.
“First, you look, and you see he’s a tall, long, athletic guy, and that really intrigues you at first,” said Hinson. “You walk out to practice, and you’re at a Division-II team, and you see a lot of undersized guys, and you see this tall, long, athletic player, and you get excited from that standpoint, but then, his demeanor and the way he carried himself on the field, too, and the leadership ability out there at practice and being a consistent worker, those are the things that really draw you into him, once you get past the size and athletic ability.”
Williams stands at 6 feet 2 and 195 pounds, and he has a track background he shares with family members. He compiled nine starts in 2021. His 31 tackles, six passes defensed, including three interceptions (and one for a touchdown), led to a nod for the All-Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association first team.
He was invited to the Senior Bowl, which has been a recurring tool for the Chiefs as they have evaluated lesser-known prospects over the years.
“I knew it was going to be a big opportunity, again, for a lot of the questions people had about me playing at a D-II school,” said Williams, as he spoke to the Kansas City media via Zoom. “I try to approach everything — I’m going full speed, trying hard. I’m not going to take any breaks or any shortcuts. I’m out there just competing. That’s what I like to do. I like to compete. I’m a competitive guy, so I was out there, giving my all, having fun, playing football. Try not to think about too much, because that’s a lot of times when things go wrong. It all played out pretty well, and kind of put me in a position to higher my draft stock at least compared to where it was before that.”
Hinson explained that when evaluating small-school prospects, he leans on the traits he can identify over the game tape.
“If I see the burst and the acceleration, I see the change-of-direction,” added Hinson. “That translates if you’re at Alabama or if you’re at Fayetteville State. So if he’s got quick feet, if he has good hips, he can change direction. If he can track the ball, that doesn’t change no matter what field you’re playing on, so that’s what you gotta do when you go to those former schools — focus on the certain traits that you have, and see if you can build upon them.
“And you hope, ‘OK. You got this clay that you bring to our outstanding coaches and kind of grow from there, and he can just get stronger and better and learn more technique and stuff like that.”
Acknowledging there will be a “developmental process” for Williams — something typically expected for a fourth-round prospect — Hinson now hands the reins off to Chiefs defensive backs coach Dave Merrit.
“It doesn't matter, really, if you’re coming from a big school, it’s still a change — the speed, the pace, the strength,” noted Hinson. “Those are some things that are going to be different for him, and how quickly he adjusts to it. It may take him a few months; it may take him a year. You just don’t really know until he gets here. But I know one thing — he’s got the right attitude, he’s smart, he’s going to work. So all those things are going to be good, but I just can’t tell you how long it will take.”
As of Thursday night, it is probably fair to project the Chiefs’ Day-1 starters at cornerback to be returners L’Jarius Sneed and Rashad Fenton, as well as first-round rookie Trent McDuffie. Williams figures to battle for depth time with Deandre Baker, who is back for another season.
At 6 feet 2, Williams will have an edge over several of his teammates in the defensive back room as he competes for early snaps. He believes he has several different roles for the Chiefs.
“I’d say I’m versatile,” said Williams. “I’d say I’m explosive. I’m a fierce competitor. I could go on for days. All in all, I want the biggest thing to be I’m a hard worker, and I’m tenacious on the field. There’s never a lack of motor or effort, and he’s working hard.
“I’m 100% confident in my abilities...I know it’s going to take time to learn the system and of course, adapt to just the pace of the game... I’m confident in my abilities to do [it], and I’m sure I’ll be able to come out and contribute some way starting at the first week.”
Fayetteville State University is a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), and with the Chiefs’ pick, Williams became the first NFL prospect drafted out of an HBCU since 2020. HBCUs have become an off-the-field priority for quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and the added attention and awareness help lead to picks like that for Williams.
“There’s always been those players there, but I think it’s nice they’re starting to highlight that now,” explained Hinson. “every once and a while, there were still some guys coming from there, but we didn’t really highlight it. And I think now, it’s being more highlighted, and more kids are going to those schools. So it’s kind of intriguing, and it’s special because... there was a tone of HBCU players and as college football grew, it kind of changed, and everybody started going to major schools instead of the HBCUs, but I think you see a little trickle effect back that to the HBCU, so that’s a good thing.”
The Chiefs visited Williams at the Scouting Combine and later hosted him for a top-30 visit.
“It means a lot,” Williams said of learning about being the first HBCU draftee since 2020. “It definitely just speaks to the exposure we’ve been getting and also to hard work I’ve been putting in — just trying to create a name for myself.
“I’m glad that it all paid off, and I’m glad all of these things came to fruition. I’m glad to be a Kansas City Chief.”