My pre-draft analysis of the Cardinals’ new back from the 2013 RSP and a play-by-play breakdown of Williams and Marion Grice from Sunday’s Chiefs’ game.
Williams was one my underrated backs in the 2013 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. You’ll also notice that I was a big fan of Williams’ skill as a receiver and thought he was one of the best receiving options I had seen. This is an aspect of Williams’ game that he shares in common with teammate Marion Grice. It’s no surprise to me that both Grice and Williams were initially signed by the Chargers and are now in Arizona–both teams value backs with excellent hands and special teams skill.
Listed below are my entries for Williams in the RSP. The former Utah State back was my No.13 runner in my pre-draft rankings
College teams often have a knack for recruiting talent at a position and when they do, that position seems loaded in retrospect. Terrell Davis, Garrison Hearst, and Mack Strong were all running backs at Georgia at the same time. Raymont Harris, Robert Smith, and Eddie George were together for a time at Ohio State. William Andrews was Joe Cribbs’ fullback at Auburn and the Tigers also had a pretty nice time share going with Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown.
I don’t know if Utah State’s trio of Robert Turbin, Michael Smith, and Kerwynn Williams will join this list, but they are a talented trio. Williams often looked like the smartest and most explosive runner of the three. One thing I know for sure is that when a running back catches line drives with great body adjustment in the intermediate range of the field and has me thinking of players like Marshall Faulk and James Brooks, he might be one of the best pass receivers I have seen at the running back position.
Williams makes one-handed grabs look easy, and he can turn and snatch the ball on high throws and turn his hips downfield to land and maintain his stride. Once in the open field, he’s a fluid runner with good open field vision a noticeable second gear.
He has a good stiff arm for a space player and his balance to run through wraps is better than what I saw from Kenjon Barner and Andre Ellington and I’d rather have his skill for setting angles in pass protection than these two high-profile prospects. Although Williams will never be accused of having power, I think his versatility as a runner, receiver, blocker,
and return specialist is better than the higher profile spread runners in this class.
I also think he made a positive impression at the Combine. Don’t be surprised if he’s drafted before the sixth round and makes a splash on special teams and passing downs as a rookie. He he can demonstrate some of the patience he flashed as a runner, he might continue to add muscle and earn a shot as a lead back in a committee within the next 2-3 seasons. It will depend a lot on the scheme fit. Stay tuned.
RSP Profile Summary
13. Kerwynn Williams, Utah State (5-8, 195)
Andre Ellington and Kenjon Barner get more love as the spread system backs of choice in this draft class, but I like Williams the most. His speed, burst, and agility are equal or greater than these two high-profile prospects and I think he does a better job of keeping his feet moving in traffic and wrapped. In fact don’t think he’s that much different from Mike Gillslee.
Williams also protects the ball well between the tackles and has some good pick-and-slide and stop-start moves. While he’ll occasionally reverse his field for big plays, he doesn’t rely too much on this as a runner. When the blocking is good, he can take a play the distance. When he gets outside, he displays a consistent stiff arm that is accurate and strong for his size.
Williams needs to work on hitting creases harder when those creases are small. He has good balance but not more than average strength. However, he needs to at least finish that way on plays where there is no cutback lane. Despite his usual patience there are times he’ll try to bounce runs outside where he needs to get down hill and lower the pads.
He sets good angles as a pass blocker and will stand in the pocket to shield a quarterback. However, Williams needs to improve his punch as pass protector. He catches his opponents and he’s too small to do this without getting killed and his quarterback killed. He also needs to avoid leading with his head as a run blocker.
Where Williams excels – and could be the best in a very good class of backs – is pass receiving. When most people imagine a back described as a threat in the intermediate range of the field, they think of back catching wheel routes where the pass has a soft arc lofted over the defender.
Williams catches outs, comebacks, and fade-stops thrown with true velocity. He does so with his hands away from his body and snatches the ball at angles that leave me wonder if he shouldn’t be asked to work on his routes and become a slot receiver. His potential is that good.
If my peers are correct, Ellington and Barner are likely to find teams before Williams, but I think the Utah State runner is the better player and bigger bargain. Williams will likely begin his career as a return specialist and committee back in an offense that likes to spread the defense and attack in spaces.
What I Saw Sunday vs. Kansas City with Williams and Marion Grice
He alternated the second series with Stepfan Taylor and right away Williams was patient, but decisive as an interior runner. He worked close enough to the line of scrimmage to cut to an alternate crease when there was one to be had. When the best choice was to hit the original crease, Williams got his pads low and burst down hill into defenders to get whatever was available.
He saw the field to begin the third series and did a sound job of sliding across the formation to block a B-gap blitz by the slot defnesive back from the right hash. Williams didn’t use his hands, but he had strong position to the inside shoulder of the defender and delivered a hard shot with his shoulder and arm to turn the defender outside and then follow-up with his hands to force the defender away from Drew Stanton. A better defensive back likely beats Williams and foils this throw, but Williams’ effort was good enough to give Stanton a lane to hit Larry Fitzgerald in the first flat for a six-yard gain.
The Cardinals inserted Marion Grice into the lineup on the following play, and Grice earned a crease off left tackle and made a good dip at the line of scrimmage inside the guard for a couple of yards before he was wrapped by backside pursuit. Grice ran through the wrap and spun through enough of a defensive back’s wrap at the chest to earn two more for a total of seven. Grice then helped a beaten Jonathan Cooper (the left guard) with a block on the defensive tackle. The rookie set a good angle to the inside shoulder of the defender and forced the lineman outside the quarterback’s spot in the pocket.
Williams returned 4-5 plays later and earned three yards behind the center and inside the left guard Cooper, who got whipped to the inside by the tackle. Williams still managed to get his pads low and hit the crease hard enough in anticipation of the penetration to fight forward for three yard.
On the following play, Williams earned one of the better creases of the half with a nice press to the left shoulder of the center and cut back through a huge gap inside the right guard. He nearly stumbled two yards past the line of scrimmage when he accelerated. He ran through a wrap to his leg four yards down field and turned his back into the hit from the safety to reach the first down marker for a gain of seven.
The burst was noticeably better than that of Taylor or Grice, but this isn’t a surprise based on his college tape.
Williams earned a breather on the next play and Grice worked across the shotgun formation to protect the QB from the nickel slot defender’s blitz looping from the right edge to the inside gap of left tackle. Grice tried to throw a shoulder at the last moment rather than punch and the defender nearly slid inside to reach the quarterback. Stanton got hit by the blind side edge defender as he threw, but Grice didn’t give the quarterback any room to climb the pocket. Stanton managed to complete the pass to Fitzgerald in the right flat.
Grice earned two yards on 2nd and 1 against a six-man front at the line of scrimmage, running through a wrap at his shoulders and legs at the line of scrimmage for two yards. Good body lean.
The Cardinals ran a screen to the left flat from the Chiefs’ six, using misdirection to the right to set up a throw ot the opposite flat. However, Kansas City anticipated the play and Stanton still targeted Grice at the 16 despite the defense penetrating with six defenders–three of them unblocked and another two already 3-5 yards in the backfield before the pass arrived to Grice. The rookie made an excellent jump cut to avoid the first defender, stuttered and dipped inside the second defender, but then got hit head-on and dropped by three unblocked Chiefs at the 10.
Taylor was used as a blocker during the next series when the Cardinals weren’t in an empty set during the two-minute drill. The starter also began the first series of the third quarter and gave way to Grice on one pass before returning for two additional plays.
Williams returned to the field on the second series of the third quarter and earned a strong gain from the Chiefs 42 in 1×2 receiver 11 personnel set against a nickel look with eight in the box. The second-year back pressed to the outside shoulder of right tackle and cut back to the left tackle’s wash-down block to the inside. He straightened his path down hill and inside Michael Floyd’s backside block near the left hash and earned four yards, finishing the play with low pads head-on into the defensive back at the 38 and drove through the contact to the 33.
What stood out on this play was the press and cut patience, the agility to slide from right tackle to the opposite hash, and the aggressive finish to attack the safety standing flat-footed to earn another five yards after contact. he’s not powerful, but at 5-8, he has a low center of gravity and when burst, aggression, and downhill momentum combine on a single play, Williams will earn yardage.
He bounced the following play outside and used his right arm to swat through Justin Houston’s reach at the line of scrimmage to find the open flat under Floyd’s block for a first down and 14 yards tot he left sideline, running through a wrap by a defensive back at the 21 and diving for the boundary at the 19.
Two plays later, Williams delivered a nice punch on Tamba Hali when the outside linebacker worked outside the left tackle. Good punch that gave the tackle time to recover from Hali’s outside rush and follow-up with better position. Stanton found Jon Brown inside the 15 on a crossing route, but the rookie dropped the target after a strong hit.
The Cardinals found their rhythm an a weakness in the Chiefs’ scheme, running again to the left edge, this time a counter behind the right guard and lead H-back. Williams did a great job dipping inside the H-back at the middle of the line before he dipped outside the two pulling blockers. This sucked the defense inside and up field and left the edge wide open for Williams. The runner picked up blocks from Fitzgerald and Floyd split wide left outside the numbers of the flats–a good scheme design to open this edge wide if well-blocked upfront.
Williams turned the corner, spotted the safety charging down hill from the deep middle, and pressed and dipped outside the defender at the 36 of Arizona. he ran through some of the safety’s diving wrap attempt and stumbled forward, gaining 9 total. Williams was notably angry because he knew if he beat that safety clean, he had two blocks outside that could have earned him a much larger gain, if not a touchdown.
He was held to a yard on 2nd and 5 with a minute left in the third quarter thanks to penetration up the middle. The next offensive series came in the fourth quarter and Williams earned a few yards off left guard, getting low and keeping his legs moving when there wasn’t much of a crease.
Grice returned to the field on 3rd and 8 and did a good job picking up the slot defender outside left guard, but the left guard failed to diagnose the inside defender delaying his blitz and that defender got free access inside Cooper to deliver a hard hit on Stanton during the QB’s release.
Williams returned on the Cardinals’ third offensive series of the fourth quarter and cut inside two blocks behind the line of scrimmage to find a hole further inside for a gain of four. With 5:20 left, the new runner was stuffed for a two-yard loss trying to cut outside penetration on 1st and 10.
Williams followed up with big run on 2nd and 10 from a 1×2 receiver 11 personnel set at the Cardinals’ 15 versus a nickel front versus seven in the box. Williams earned a huge hole between the tight end and Fitzgerald’s outside seals and the right guard’s inside seal. Williams pressed that lane and then cut inside the tackle who pushed the DE outside into the original lane. Williams burst under the tackle and bent the run back to the outside while in the hole, accelerating outside the center to the right hash as the safety slid too far to the right side thanks to Williams’ press.
Williams exited the hole past Fitzgerald and the defender assigned to the receiver and got the first down. The deep safety was one-on-one with Williams at the right hash and wrapped the runner at the legs at the 30. Williams continued forward for another three yards. Good cutback here.
He gained another five off left guard through a good crease before wrapped at the legs and hit over top. Then another three to set up a 3rd and 2 pass to Robert Hughes for a huge gain up the sideline to reach the Chiefs’ 24. Williams then worked up center for three yards, avoided penetration up the middle to reach the line of scrimmage on second down, and then danced inside out on a shotgun draw to reach the left edge and gain four yards where it appeared he might be stopped for no gain.
Anyone who writes that Marion Grice was ineffective on Sunday wasn’t paying close enough attention. Grice was an effective blocker, earned a first down on short-yardage play that wasn’t optimally blocked, and he had a strong gain based on his balance and strength on a well-blocked play to the edge. The only bad play involving Grice was the screen pass that Stanton should not have thrown and even then, Grice prevented a much bigger loss with his agility and vision.
Williams has more burst than Grice and because of this fact, it appeared that he “ran hotter.” The truth is that Williams’ burst combined with his patience on plays that the Cardinals usually reserve for Andre Ellington, but haven’t used with Grice, earned him more carries. Williams is a better fit for this year’s scheme and the young runner was confident enough to play decisive football and make the most of his chances.
Taylor was barely used as a runner in this game. I bet Williams will earn similar opportunities next week and if he continues to display the confidence and preparation he showed Sunday against Kansas City, he’ll be the lead back.
Grice wasn’t bad, but the Cardinals haven’t figured out how to best use him. In fact, it’s not much of a priority to them because Ellington is the back they developed a run scheme for and neither Taylor nor Grice run with the agility and burst of Arizona’s starter. It’s why the short, quick, and agile Williams saw so much time as a late promotion from the practice squad.
Grice could be a nice fit somewhere in the NFL, but Williams is the best fit down the stretch with Ellington out. If Williams gets hurt, expect the Cardinals to alter its game plan to match what Grice and Taylor do best.
For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2014 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2014 RSPs at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.
The 2015 RSP will be available April 1 and pre-ordering begins in January.