Matt Waldman often shares sample scouting reports of NFL Draft prospects where he’s hit or missed on their success. One thing he hasn’t shared are instances where he’s hit on evaluations where he was much lower on a player than the national draft media.
Identifying talented players who will fit in the NFL is only part of scouting. Another part of the job is weeding out prospects. Whether it’s knowing that the player won’t fit a specific team or scheme or possessing far lower expectations for a prospect than the consensus, it’s part of the job and it’s an underrated facet of scouting that earns me customers.
We all have our misses in this industry because scouting is a difficult, humbling process and a lifetime journey. This humility also occurs with readers and eventual customers.
I’ve had my share of public criticism for bold calls about player success and those readers even apologize to me for their behavior. Often, I don’t get an actual apology, but I receive emails from readers who explained that they only began buying the RSP publication 1-3 years after watching the performance of players where I was an outlier and realized that my analysis was well-grounded.
These players aren’t only the successful talents like Nick Chubb, Patrick Mahomes, or Marvin Jones but also the players who earned a lot of national buzz that I didn’t believe in. It’s not something I’ve shared the way I provide samples of successful players because I don’t want to take victory laps over players who didn’t earn the success that others projected for them.
I want every player to succeed—even if it turns out that I’m wrong with my assessment of them. These are young men pursuing their dreams. I know how it feels to fail on a large scale.
Keep this in mind as I begin sharing some sample reports of players whose game I was more critical of than the consensus. I want you to see how specific issues with talented players can ultimately prevent them from reaching their potential and how I communicate it in a scouting report.
Andre Williams and Bishop Sankey were frequently mentioned as top-five running backs in the 2014 class. I had Sankey 10th because he was only fluent in a gap scheme and played with a slower processor of defenders than required of an NFL running back, which made him a back who would have a steeper learning curve if asked to play in a zone scheme.
Williams was my 23rd-ranked runner. Those who valued Williams were enamored with his size, strength, and speed. The Giants drafted him in the fourth round and tried to incorporate him into the offense early.
Williams earned 235 touches for 851 yards from scrimmage and 7 touchdowns. However, he couldn’t cement the role as a starter, because he wasn’t an efficient player. The last time he saw an NFL field was 2017 for eight games with the Chargers.
Overall, Williams played in 41 games and earned 351 touches, 1227 yards, and 8 touchdowns—most of it coming as a rookie when the Giants threw him into the deep end of the pool as a rookie and hoped he figure out how to swim.
Williams had a lot of issues to address with his game. If he had fewer, his development path might have turned out differently. However, his evaluation had both major issues as well as several minor issues.
In my experience, several minor issues can outweigh a major problem. When you have both, it’s a steep path to overcome in order to become a competitive pro.
In Williams’ case, he had moments where he could put together his athletic gifts but it didn’t happen consistently enough to deliver efficient performances because he lacked the fully stocked tool bet of skills to solve problems that we expect starters at the position to overcome.
23. Andre Williams, Boston College (5-11, 230)
Williams is a good-sized back in the mold of Andre Brown of the Giants. However, the speed and strength he has are only seen in flashes on the field. The Boston College offense with its tight line splits could be the culprit, but I have concerns that it’s the player, not the scheme.
When Williams gathers momentum and has space to drop his pads, he can strike a defender and earn some yards after contact. On a designed play that the offense blocks well, Williams has enough burst to get around a corner. When he gets the corner and can turn his hips and pads downhill with momentum, he can be a load to tackle.
However, these things only happen on rare occasions. His pad level is often too high and very few times each game have I seen Williams open up his stride and get to his top speed on the field. You’ll see a lot of these nice plays in the highlight packages below.
Most of the time, Williams engages opponents without this level of momentum or intensity. More often than not, I see Williams generate downhill momentum and still get the worst of a head-on collision with a smaller defender.
He gets stood up in the hole against defenders on a lot of plays—especially for a 230-pound man with his speed. If his leverage was as good as his strength, he’d be a more effective power runner.
It’s not that he doesn’t like to play with intensity. When Williams can aim his pads at an opponent, he loves to punish them. I’ve seen the runner use his shoulder to uppercut through contact and drive defenders backward.
The good Williams behavior happens late in games after the defense is worn down, the runner has earned some space and momentum heading downhill and he’s opened up his stride. When this happens, Williams runs with high enough knees to bounce off contact.
If Williams can do these things more often or I could find an explanation for why it doesn’t happen more often, then I’d have Williams ranked much higher on my board. As it stands, he looks like a highly conservative runner, who struggles to apply any creativity to his game and is at his best in a gap-style scheme.
In this type of offense, Williams can set up some blocks in space as well as gap blocks opening a hole. He has a quick enough first step to make good press and cut back adjustments at the line of scrimmage and that first step helps him avoid some penetration into the backfield by defenders.
Put him in a zone offense and he struggles, but not for the same reasons as Bishop Sankey. The Washington runner has difficulty making decisions with a broader arrange of options to chose from. Williams’ issues are more athletic in nature.
The Boston College back has difficulty making lateral cuts or wide dips. He lacks this kind of high-end footwork. When he tried to execute this footwork, he runs into his teammates and it slows him down.
Williams’ ability to cut is so limited that he has to slow his stride on runs to the perimeter and he ends up inviting pursuit back into the play. As is common for most big backs, get Williams moving east-west before he can generate any momentum or open up his stride, and Williams will not make anyone miss.
Williams’ ball security is good. He protects the ball with either arm and will finish with the pads low and both arms around it. In theory, he looks like a great battering ram.
On passing downs Williams doesn’t show anything that will help a team. He has 10 career receptions for 60 yards and none came as a senior. However, there are backs in the NFL who didn’t earn a lot of targets as collegians and became good receiving options.
Combine this lack of targets with Williams’ difficulty getting up to full speed and he is not the ideal back for an environment where he has to turn his hips fast and open his stride even faster than what was required of him at Boston College.
Williams’ block of choice as a pass protector or lead blocker is the cut block. This technique also has the same issues as the techniques he doesn’t perform well as a runner.
Williams drops his head on cut blocks and has to learn to shoot across the body of his opponent. I’ve seen him miss cut blocks in a variety of ways, including shooting too low; shooting across the body but not driving through his contact with defender; not reaching the target in time, and taking a poor angle to the target. I’ve even seen near-perfect location and height, but a lack of force with the blow.
As a stand-up blocker, Williams has to develop more awareness of green dog blitz situations. The running back is almost always the reason a defender opts to green dog and Williams has to identify who that defender might be before the snap or at an early point in the play.
Williams’ speed is a question mark because I haven’t seen enough burst in his game to separate from defenders beyond the second level. I also don’t see enough burst to the hole, especially when the creases are smaller and he has to attack it with more fervor to win yards on the play.
When the holes are big, he makes good decisions, but so do most backs. Plays requiring work through smaller creases often result in Williams getting driven backward. In contrast, Tre Mason hits small creases with an intensity that at least earns him some yardage.
The reason Mason earns these tough yards isn’t so much his height, but his pad level and intensity. Marion Grice is Williams’ height and he performs as well as Mason on many of these plays with tight creases.
Perhaps Williams reaches the NFL and he has more space to open his stride as he enters a crease and he runs with more intensity. However, Williams has been playing in an I-formation backfield so this should already be happening.
I’ve missed on players in the past because I could not project their athleticism well enough for the NFL game. Demaryius Thomas is a great example. Thomas played in an offense where it was difficult for me to see his speed and agility as well as his potential as a route runner.
It will be a similar case if I miss on Williams. However, I have to trust my process so I can get a better understanding of how to address a player in a situation like Williams in the future. Yet, this is a long-term solution.
The best I can do for you in the short-term is tell you that this ranking doesn’t match how most view Williams and as much as I’ve watched him, I cannot see where to adjust it. Either I’m closer to the truth and others are way off, or I’m the incorrect outlier.
Pre-NFL Draft Fantasy Advice: Williams has been considered one of the top five runners on the board this year. At worst, he’s a top-10 back among those who have larger criticisms of his game. If you’re following my scouting, then at least be aware that there’s an opportunity to trade down for additional picks if you know anyone who values Williams enough to make a deal.
However, I have to believe that running backs will not be the main focus of the first two rounds of April drafts among leagues with owners tuned into the 2014 NFL Draft analysis that’s out there. It means you may have a difficult time gauging where Williams will be valued.
If you’re seeking a running back in this class, make sure pick early enough to get the player you desire at the top or be content to take what’s available after Williams.
For the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), get the 2019 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. If you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2018 RSPs at no additional charge.
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